Ferrari rules road racing in the mid-1960s, especially with its streak of wins at the twenty-four-hour Le Mans endurance test. Ford Motor Company, perhaps foolishly, gets convinced they ought to bump the Italians from their roost. Spruce up the brand. Please the owner.
Offhanded confidence, sure, precise and humming: James Mangold’s pleasingly torqued “Ford v Ferrari” is a thrilling classical studio machine and splashy, sometimes bombastic entertainment: men seek glory against the protestations of corporate overlords and recalcitrant, tooled and retooled vessels at speed. Money and physics, they’ll fuck you if they get the chance.
The actors are precise, too, as paired car-mechanic marvels: veteran race-car builder Carroll Shelby, Matt Damon at middle age, a savor of Tommy Lee Jones in his character’s crafted machinations; as driver Ken Miles, Christian Bale as earnest and consternated instinct atop expertise, boasting a gaudy accent that may approach his own Welsh; and as noted shitheel Henry Ford II, Tracy-by-God-Letts capturing the cold lizard with hot avarice and the serenest of actorly chops.
The screenplay (by Mangold, John-Henry Butterworth, Jez Butterworth and Jason Keller) is a calculated compression of process and duration, akin to a Michael Mann enterprise; Mann, who did not get a Ferrari project of his own into production, is an executive producer. There is also a patina of autocritique: the controlling, micromanaging Ford executives could as well be studio executives trying to explain entertainment to its makers.
Go see FORD V FERRARI this weekend. It’s great and really entertaining. Here are a few of my storyboards. pic.twitter.com/Pw3IYRTcGv
— Gabriel Hardman (@gabrielhardman) November 14, 2019
Quick wit, dry dialogue and grace notes punctuate bursts of velocity. Big themes sound: “There’s a point at 7,000 RPMs where everything fades: the machine becomes weightless. It disappears. All that’s left, a body moving through space, and time. At 7,000 RPM, that’s where you meet it. That’s where it waits for you.”
Small treasures include a father-to-son lesson unfolded upon a runway at LAX as golden hour crests orange-and-smoke on the horizon and a tall, lit number “8” (which is also a lemniscate, or infinity symbol) glows ice in medium distance. Young actor Noah Jupe bursts from the screen nearly as vividly as in “Honey Boy,” where he plays the young Shia LaBeouf in emotional beatdown after beatdown. His wide-eyed listening is proud hunger.
As for the largely practical re-creation of three major races (as opposed to green screen and other forms of computer-generation imagery), Autoweek is pleased, too: “You’ll see replicas of cars that raced at Le Mans in 1966, including Porsche 906s, 911s and replicas of the beautiful Ferrari 330 P3s, one of which is actually launched into the air by a cannon to film a crash scene. And of course, there are enough GT40s to fill a grid, which they did.” With Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal. Widescreen. 152m. (Ray Pride)
“Ford v Ferrari” opens Thursday, November 14.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.