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In Theaters: FORD V FERRARI (2019)

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FORD V FERRARI
(US - 2019)

Directed by James Mangold. Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller. Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon, JJ Feild, Jack McMullen, Corrado Invernizzi, Gianfranco Tordi, Benjamin Rigby, Wallace Langham, Jonathan LaPaglia, Ward Horton. (PG-13, 152 mins)

With a pace as relentless as the 24 Hours of Le Mans race that takes up most of its third act, FORD V FERRARI is a throwback to the kind of vintage, character-driven, star-powered crowd-pleasers that we don't see nearly enough of these days. It's probably the fastest two and a half hours of the year, and it's also nice to see it click with moviegoers in a year when films aimed at grownups haven't been doing well (a shame nobody went to see MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN). It's a quintessential dad movie that's both feel-good and a man-weepie. It's funny and filled with riveting action, dramatic tension, quotable dialogue, and terrific performances all around. At its heart, it's a classic buddy movie and one of the best films about racing ever made, but is engineered as such that you don't even need to be a racing fan or a huge car aficionado to get completely sucked into it. "They don't make 'em like this anymore" is a cliched turn of phrase, but it applies here. FORD V FERRARI is the kind of mainstream, multiplex popcorn movie that ends up winning a ton of awards simply because it gets just about everything right and is almost impossible to dislike.






Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) won the 24-hour endurance race Le Mans in 1959 but was soon forced to retire from the circuit after being diagnosed with a heart condition. By 1964, he's a successful businessman who runs Shelby American, which builds and modifies sports and racing cars for the circuit and for private buyers wealthy enough to afford them (Steve McQueen is mentioned as a regular client). At the same time in Detroit, Ford is struggling and CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) demands solutions from his marketing team. His VP Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) suggests they abandon the '50s style vehicles and start focusing on flashier, sportier cars to appeal to Baby Boomers who are now driving age. Iacocca goes even further by suggesting they make the Ford name synonymous with cool (Iacocca: "James Bond doesn't drive a Ford." Ford II: "James Bond is a degenerate") by entering the racing world in a partnership with Italian auto magnate Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), who rules Le Mans but is secretly facing bankruptcy. When Ferrari reveals himself to be playing them simply to drive up his asking price for preferred partner Fiat, and insults an enraged Ford II--aka "The Deuce"--and the entire Ford company, the blustering CEO orders Iacocca and senior executive VP Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) to find the best engineers and drivers in the US--with no expense spared--to design and built a Le Mans-ready machine and crush Ferrari into the ground.


Iacocca immediately meets with Shelby, knowing he's the best in the business, and the top driver Shelby has in mind is his British buddy Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Miles is the best at what he does, but he's hot-tempered and doesn't play well with others, and he rubs Beebe the wrong way by showing up at an event as Shelby's guest and wasting no time derisively dismissing the Mustang, Ford's newest product on the market. Fearful that Miles' abrasive personality makes him the wrong driver to represent Ford, Beebe forces Shelby to keep his friend behind the scenes to placate Ford. But when none of the Ford drivers finish the '64 Le Mans, Shelby convinces Ford to allow Miles behind the wheel going forward, much to the sneering disapproval of the scheming Beebe, who basically functions as the film's chief villain. It's hard to imagine turning the engineering of the perfect racing vehicle--in this case the Ford GT40--into compelling cinema, but that's exactly what FORD V FERRARI does, culminating in the 1966 Le Mans, where Ford's racing team, headed by Miles, gives Ferrari his first serious competition in years.


Titled LE MANS '66 in Europe and some other parts of the world (apparently American moviegoers have no idea what Le Mans is--they probably don't, even though we already had the Steve McQueen vanity project LE MANS way back in 1971), FORD V FERRARI began life nearly a decade ago as a Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt teaming set to be directed by Michael Mann. Cruise's OBLIVION director Joseph Kosinski was later attached, though nothing ever happened and the two stars moved on. The script by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (EDGE OF TOMORROW, GET ON UP) was tweaked by Jason Keller (MACHINE GUN PREACHER, ESCAPE PLAN--the latter under the pseudonym "Arnell Jesko"), and directing duties landed with James Mangold, one of Hollywood's top journeymen (COP LAND, GIRL INTERRUPTED, 3:10 TO YUMA), coming off 2017's LOGAN, arguably the UNFORGIVEN of superhero movies. The end result is pure entertainment from start to finish, anchored by Damon, who sometimes appears to be channeling Tommy Lee Jones in his portrayal of a take-no-shit Shelby, and Bale, who's rarely been this loose and likable onscreen, even when Miles is being a surly, uncooperative pain in the ass (Bale gets to show Miles' soft side in his scenes with Caitriona Balfe as his supportive wife who never hesitates to let him have it when he's got it coming to him, and Noah Jupe as their son, who idolizes his dad). They get excellent support from Letts, Bernthal, Girone (who lets his scowl do most of his emoting), Ray McKinnon (bringing a Dennis Weaver-ish folksiness to Shelby's chief engineer Phil "Pops" Remington), and Lucas, who makes an utterly punchable Beebe, depicted throughout as a servile, boot-licking toady who's willing to throw anyone under the bus if it makes him look good in The Deuce's eyes. While there is no doubt some liberties taken in the service of telling the story, FORD V FERRARI is exhilarating filmmaking and an inspired addition to the pantheon of underdog sports cinema.




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