Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari

After the success of the summer’s “buddy” picture Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we have another such offering with Ford v Ferrari directed by James Mangold (Logan) – this time starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale as real-life peers, colleagues and buddies Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles.

Racing star Shelby, a good-‘ol-boy Texan who won Le Mans in 1959, and driver/mechanic Miles, an émigré from Great Britain were brought together by a mutual respect, talent and an obsession with cars. Shelby, a celebrity in the world of racing, knew how to play the game and was good at schmoozing and people pleasing. Miles knew racing and mechanics, and had no qualms about speaking his mind or getting his point across – a point that was almost always correct.

Although incredibly different, the two forged a deep and meaningful friendship.

The movie tells the story of Ford Motor Company and the attempt to buy a portion of the near-bankrupt Ferrari corporation. After this plan failed, Ford set about building its own race car. 

As you may guess, the story is much more complicated than this and the main conflict is not between Ford and Ferrari, as the title would have you believe. In fact, there are many conflicts in the story. Damon portrays Shelby as a man torn between the desire to win at all costs or do what the “suits” tell him to. As Miles, Bale exudes a cheeky arrogance.  However, he is endearing while showing us his inner battles – a man who knows what’s best when it comes to racing/mechanics, yet wants to take care of his family. 

We see the conflict between Ford exec Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal from “The Walking Dead”) and Henry Ford II (played fantastically blustering and imposing by Tracy Letts from Homeland, Divorce and The Sinner). Letts chews the scenery and completely steals every scene he’s in and it’s not too far-fetched to say he may be up for a best supporting actor nomination.  Josh Lucas (Yellowstone) plays smarmy, boot-licking Ford underling Leo Beebe, who battles with both Shelby and Miles as well as the other Ford execs. 

Bale comes home to his alluring yet no-nonsense wife Mollie (Irish-born Caitriona Balfe from Outlander) and devoted son Peter (Noah Jupe of a Quiet Place and Wonder). Balfe is given far too little to do, but shines in her scenes. Balfe’s Mollie is fierce and devoted, and it’s easy to see how she could tame the volatile Ken. Jupe tugs at our heartstrings as a devoted son, always wondering if his father’s dangerous profession will take him away from his family.

I should note also how much I enjoyed the performance of Italian actor Remo Girone as Ferrari. His frightening, confrontational tone when he speaks in his native tongue to Iacocca is so well-acted that we don’t need a translator. We know exactly what he said, even without subtitles.

In the end, audiences may wonder why the movie wasn’t retitled to portray the main conflict in the story: The Ford company against the Ford company. You see a definite “camp” wanting to design a good, winning car, while still another “camp” wants to figure out ways to make the company look good and make money. 

This may or may not be your movie. It’s a “guy film,” the complete opposite of the somewhat offensive moniker “chick flick.” Guys like me who appreciate cars, speed and good old buddy fellowship will appreciate the story, the performances and overall feeling of the movie. Others will find parts of the movie slow and a tad hokey. 

Drivers going at fast speeds probably don’t glance over at each other as they pass on the raceway, nor do they sing songs and yell “giddy-up” often. However, how many of us would know for sure? Most of us would find our internal organ functions challenged going at such speeds.

Go see it. I think it’s a movie that must be seen on the big screen. The performances are great, with Bale and Damon once again showing us why they are sought-after movie stars. Their chemistry is something that should be repeated in other roles. They are a good team.

My grade: A- …I added the minus only because there are indeed a few slow parts and the movie is not without a few flaws. Heck, even those great cars had a few flaws in them, right?

Ford v Ferrari is rated PG-13 for language and peril. It stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon. Running time is 152 minutes.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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