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Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari is more than a racing movie

Ford v Ferrari
Directed by James Mangold
In Theatres

And as I was leaving the theatre, James Burton's Polk Salad Annie still ringing in my ears, I overheard a young couple walking behind me. "That was sad," she said. "Yes," he said, "but great." I had to silently agree. Ford v Ferrari is a sad, great movie. But then she said it again. And again. There was shock and grief in her voice. And then I suddenly realized that not everyone knows the story of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not everyone is familiar with the names Lee Iacocca and Enzo Ferrari and Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. For some people, Ford v Ferrari isn't legend as storytelling. It isn't history on the big screen. For them, this is a chance to see their favourite movie stars in a story set in the 60s. For them, this a chance to see a completely unique story, something not trademarked, with the only weight of expectation being what they got from the trailer. 

And so here we find ourselves in 2019, the year that saw 2 movies set in the 60s telling stories that everyone of a certain age was sure that everyone else was familiar with. 

Me, I went into Ford v Ferrari with high expectations, very high expectations. How high? Carroll Shelby is a capital L Legend, having designed some of the greatest American muscle of Ever. Lee Iacocca brought us the K-Car, the minivan, the Mustang, saved Ford and Chrysler from themselves. Enzo Ferrari is The Enzo frickin Ferrari. And Ken Miles was, without hyperbole, one of motor racing's giants. When I was a kid I played with a Le Mans slot race track that had a number 1 Ford GT40 Mark II and a number 20 Ferrari 330 P3. And I'm not a true gear head, more like a wanna-be gear head. I have supercar dreams, but spend my days fighting traffic and trying to find the perfect line in my Yaris.

I try not to have any expectations going into any film, I want to be surprised by the movie and my reaction to it. But this, this is a movie that has been whispered about for something like 20 years. For fans of cars that make the clouds rumble, cars that have triple digit horsepower, cars that require a unique skill set to drive, and people who have great affection for the people who build those cars, Ford v Ferrari might as well have been called I Don't Think Your Expectations Are High Enough. And so it was that I walked into Ford v Ferrari trying to squash those expectations. But in those opening moments, as Carroll Shelby drives the Aston Marin DBR1 in the 1959 Le Mans in the dark, battling exhaustion and his car, well, my expectations were shown the door. Ford v Ferrari isn't just a race movie. Not at all. 

Heck, I'd be tempted to not call it a race movie at all. Don't get me wrong, there are thrilling and amazing and nail biting scenes of racing. The action is top shelf. But it's a race movie in the same way that Mr. Mangold's Walk the Line was a country music movie, or Logan was a comic book movie. Ford v Ferrari is a near-perfect combination of modern storytelling technique combined with classic Hollywood. This is the kind of movie that Paul Newman or Steve McQueen could have starred in. It's a study of a type of person that doesn't really exist anymore. It's a story of mavericks. The people that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon seven years after Kennedy said "we choose to go to the moon", they had the same mindset as the people who said "we can beat Ferrari at their game. In a Ford."

So, yeah. I love Ford v Ferrari. I love everything about it. I love the soundtrack, with its Nina Simone and Buck Owens and Sonics and Link Wray and James Burton. I love the attention to detail. I love the way it looks. I love how it has almost a grain to it, like it was filmed with lenses from the era. I love the way that it's cut, how its a melding of editing ideas from the 60s and modern practices. I love how the scenes have room to breathe. I love that it's probably a little too long but I can't think of a frame to remove. I love Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders' score, with it's cool European and American vibes. I love the script, I love the story. I love the posters and their cool 60s look. I love the clothes. I even love Christian Bale's pyjamas.

And I love the performances. Turns out, no-one else could have played Carroll Shelby. Matt Damon brings a cocky, confident, friendliness to his performance. And he does that thing he's always done, that amazing gift he has to pull back and let the other actors have the focus, to let them shine. It's like watching a great musician, the way he lets everyone else shine. An example - Ray McKinnon has always been a fine character actor but watching him with Mr. Damon you really do see the depths of his talent. 

I don't think I've ever seen Christian Bale have this much fun before. This is a whole new Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari. Mocking and condescending towards people he sees as deserving, loving towards his family and friends, giggling and talking to the car while driving. And again, Mr. Damon just lets Mr. Bale shine even brighter in their scenes together. Jon Bernthal is great as Lee Iacocca, you can see the man that will change the American car landscape and business for decades. Tracy Letts is perfection as Henry Ford II, the combination of wanna-be aristocracy and new money, the arrogance, and the depths of emotion riding underneath it all. 

And then there's Caitriona Balfe, as Mollie Miles. Strong, fiery, sexy, she is everything fans of Outlander have thought she would be. And she had her work cut out for her - first she's playing the wife of Christian Bale's Ken Miles, which means having to go toe to toe with one of the most intense actors of his generation. And, second, she is one the few women in the movie. She could have come off as shrill or hand wringing. Instead, you feel the love between these two characters. Their marriage feels real, she feels like a real woman with real concerns and needs and wants. 

So, yeah. Get yourself to a theatre and buy a ticket for Ford v Ferrari. Is it one of my favourite films of the year? Why are you still asking crazy questions? Of course it is. Now stop asking crazy questions. And get back to work.