James Clay // Film Critic
TORONTO – FORD v FERRARI is a movie made for the bygone era. It’s a sports drama that’s an eye-rolling look at the spirit of competition. Coming off of LOGAN, director James Mangold chronicles the saga of the Ford motor company’s ventures into the world of endurance racing, and it’s a real clunker – a true meat and potatoes film with an outdated look at its subject matter.
The film stars Matt Damon as Carrol Shelby – who’s, of course, best known for his work on the Mustang – and Christian Bale as Ken Miles – a renegade British racer) – and the duo provides their most pedestrian work in years. This pompous piece of filmmaking is surprising coming from Mangold, who has found a groove as a director making very entertaining, yet reserved films.
Set in 1963, this story starts at the tip-top of the chain of command, when Henry Ford Jr. ( a towering Tracy Letts) looks at the prospect of a possible buyout of Ferrari based off the advice of his head of marketing, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, who is relaxed as ever). The auto magnet’s sales have been slumping, and Iacocca has a plan to make Ford’s vehicles sexier to the general public by diving into the elite sport of endurance racing. The crown jewel is winning the 24-hour Le Mans Race.
Ferrari treats their cars as a boutique industry, and they surely don’t want a whole bunch of suits (led by a sneering Josh Lucas) coming in and mucking up their territory. There is very little to get invested in Mangold’s film – with the Italians getting very little time to build a narrative while the Americans are reduced to greed mongers who cheat to succeed.
Ford hires Shelby to lead the team, and he only wants to hire Miles, who has been tabled as an outsider by the fine folks over at Ford. The duo develops a close bond and stands together to race on their own terms. This film is packed to the gills with unearned moments and several cliches that seem like these characters were made on the Ford factory line. Damon’s boyish charm wears thin as Shelby, who hee-haws with a lip curing brand of Texas charm. We’re living in a post-Ricky Bobby world, and FORD v FERRARI just hasn’t figured it out yet.
Bale’s role is uninspired; he plays Miles as a grumpy and socially inept (but brilliant) individual. He does what he can with the script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller. It has him playing one of his most affecting roles, acting alongside his on-screen son (played by Noah Jupe, who is everywhere these days).
The real crime here is how painfully bland this story becomes in spite of the breezy pace of the film, which clocks in at 152 minutes. Mangold’s film wastes little time getting the audience up to speed, with very little to grease the wheels in transforming into a movie of more substance.
This is a very male-driven narrative that has very little adoration for existing outside of that space. There are flashes of excitement in the racing scenes, where crashes and driving strategies take center stage; but it’s just not enough to gain interest from the casual racing fan.
In the end, you have to ask yourself: What the point of this whole venture? Is it for the love of American pride? Is it supposed to be an underdog story? Are we supposed to be rooting for the Ford motor company, even though the whole film they have been positioned as slimy? Mangold never figures out how to let FORD v FERRARI rise above being a sentimental spectacle.
FORD v FERRARI premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Encore screenings will be held on September 13 and 14. Visit tiff.net for more information. 20th Century Fox will release the film on November 15.