Monday, December 23, 2019

Wrenches Thrown In the Works

20th Century Fox

Review: Ford v Ferrari (dir. James Mangold, 2019)

It seems impossible for any comment on James Mangold's latest crowd-pleaser Ford v Ferrari to not at least make one mention of Dads. And make no mistake, I couldn't help but think of how fucking much my Dad would've loved this movie. Perhaps the best part of the Ford v Ferrari Dad Movie discourse is that it is all in sincerity. People love it because of that. It is indeed a movie to love, something that feels like they just don't make 'em like that anymore. I cannot overstate how loud, fast, and FUN this movie is. I will watch this movie on rainy days for the rest of my life.

Its the early 1960s and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and his Ford Motor Co. needs a hit. The Edsel had lamed out and the Mustang had yet to arrive. Over it Italy, says Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), top marketing man at Ford, Enzo Ferrari is going under from building cars by hand, which, as a result nobody can afford to buy. But the old Italian boss can build a race car and nobody has beaten Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in years. Iacocca and the other suits, including the suitiest of them all, Ford Motor VP Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), fail spectacularly in a bid to buy Ferrari outright. Ford II, feeling the insult all the way over in Dearborn, sends his boys to war.

Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), one of the only Americans, at that point, to have won Le Mans. He designs custom sports cars and sells them to the nouveau riche of the early Baby Boom. He leads race teams on the side and the driver her loves/hates the most is Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a fiery Brit scraping together a living (sort of) as a mechanic. We first meet him poking at a customer, one of those types Shelby sells to, for flooding his engine. The reason: he has bought too much car. Dude can't drive. But Ken can. He's the best.

Shelby and Miles start to work, bobbing and weaving through the layers of suits as they work to build a car that can do 200 for 24 hours without killing the driver. But the heart of the story lies in the care the filmmakers have taken to flesh out Ken's story. His wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and young son Peter (Noah Joop) are given so much more than most movies would give them, full arcs as important to the overall story as the two leads. The movie also pays more attention than most to the friendship between the two stars, a welcome trend of this year in movies.

20th Century Fox
Though a co-lead in a clear two-hander, Bale is the true lead. The themes of humility, patience, friendship, they all hinge on his arc. He is superb as usual--thin, wiry, sarcastic and loud. But that is not to discount Damon, who revs his patented charm straight up to 7000 RPMs, as the smooth-talking Shelby, complete with a somewhat big but still natural Southern drawl. Shelby is a guy caught in the middle of the company men breathing down his neck and his racing buddy, the oil to that corporate vinegar. Within that, he finds ways to break through in scenes of zippy dialogue, sly jabs, and classic hijinks, just to find one more thing to contend with in service of the image, the bottom line. Nevertheless, the screenplay and direction (from James Mangold, a studio "get the job done" man, himself) limit Damon's Shelby to "get the job done" man for most of the movie while offering him little in the way of a true character arc, though the final few scenes of the movie are daring and wholly moving.

Ultimately, Ford v Ferrari is a movie about the kind of big dreaming of my father's generation. And I appreciate the earnestness of it and the reception of such earnestness by an increasingly cynical community of film critics. I suppose it rises just above "OK, Boomer" territory in the way it does indeed "Damn the Man." It makes us want to punch Josh Lucas in the face but stops short of acting on it, and there we find the movie's main lesson...the quest for humility in a world of greed, control, and competitions at blinding speed. It's about finding your own identity, keeping your own identity under the rule of bureaucracy. (Ask me about being a teacher right now...). And that kind of humility comes from friendship.

Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and the director James Mangold have teamed up to make something really special here in a year with several special films about male friendship. It exists alongside this year's major hits from Tarantino and Scorsese, creating a small universe of movies that mark the influence of men on other men in positive ways and highlights how difficult and special that is. These movies are exploring aggression, the toll of expectations on aging men, and the violence of it all, and how we overcome (or try to overcome) the wrenches thrown in the path of a life's work.

★★★★1/2

Screened at Regal Pinnacle in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

6 comments:

  1. I'm really gutted I missed this one now. Cars aren't my thing but all I've read is positive thoughts and it sounds a lot more fun than the trailer made it out to be!

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    1. Oh, it's nothing but charming ass fun at the movies. Go! Big screen if you still can.

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  2. The one common thing in all the reviews I read for this one is the desire to punch Josh Lucas in the face LD

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    1. Oh, the sniveling is strong with that weasel. (And he's good in the movie. Anybody who evokes that sort of reaction universally is doing a good job. Where has that dude been?)

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  3. I wanted to punch Josh Lucas in the face so badly in this. I didn't know anything about the true story so when he busted out the "let's let them all cross together!" I could've screamed.

    I'm glad this worked for you! I thought it was fine, I probably should've read on it more before going in.

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    1. I actually didn't know how this would end myself, so....yeah. I just had so much fun watching this movie. Fun. Fun. Fun. Movies about good guys fighting the system that are this fun just don't come around that often.

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