Directed By: James Mangold
Starring: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, John Bernthal
Ah, the irresistible charm of sports movies. Was Rocky the first? Surely it is the template at the very least*. You know the story, a down on his luck, plucky contender gets wriled up usually by some Herald-come-trainer** to get back to the form of his life via montage***, showing the doubters what’s what and earning victory for the true believers.
The thing about sports movies is that you always know what you’re going to get. The appeal of the sports on which such movies are based is that occassionally an underdog story or downright Hero’s Journey will emerge among the congregation of human beings who wear the same colours as those we once decided would be the ‘team’ we’d follow, making us feel somehow smarter for choosing the winner. Yet with Liverpool FC knocked out of the Champions League and the threat of Coronavirus postponing the otherwise inevitable league title indefinitely, one wonders why anyone would bother with sport at all.
But I digress. Ford V Ferrari takes us back to Ford motor company’s entrance into the Le Mans 24 hour race. Henry Ford II has come to the conclusion that the only way to remain profitable is to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, therefore allowing Ford as a brand to appeal to yuppies. Enter [insert-generic-actor-here]****, one time racer now fast car builder to try to convince one time racer now down-on-his-luck family man Christian Bale to be the driver.
And it’s Bale who carries the film. Affecting a Brummie***** accent which may or may not have wavered slightly (I couldn’t tell because I’m from Australia), Bale’s performance as Ken Miles is both an oddity and a lot of fun. Miles exudes love and care for his family while remaining prickly and internally skeptical to everyone else. The sound bites of him talking to himself while in the driver’s seat, largely consisting of random English insults are at once incongruous and joyous.
Trope-laden though it is, Ford V Ferrari does its best to stay ahead of the pack through characterisation and truly exhilarating high speed cuts. While the enemies here in the main remain enemies and at times the film leans of pantomime villainy, the turn of Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II is a stroke of genius. Letts is one of the finest actors on the planet – I mean I just saw him in Lady Bird as a timid and loveable father and here he is Orson-freaking-Wells.
All told, even though there’s nothing much new, Ford V Ferrari is well worth the admission, or more to the point – with all public gatherings soon to be banned – it’s worth finding 2 hours and 32 minutes away from cabin fever induced squabbling.
*Other Joseph Campbell inspirations notwithstanding
**Come Burgess Meredith – come Matt Damon
***Technology these days allows us to circumvent montages by extending the running time of the film. What an age to be alive! It’s no wonder that bewilderment pervades the modern world when streaming services provide us with the ability to watch any movie we like whenever we like but as running times get longer and longer I have to spend increasing minutes of my allotted 2 hours on a weeknight trying to find any damned movie which will fit the remaining time I have left, meaning that by the time I’ve found a 90 minute feature worth my ever dwindling time, the remaining seconds are spent crying myself to sleep.
****By which I of course mean, Matt Damon. I’m not saying he can’t act, I’m simply saying that when Studios can’t think of who to cast, they cast Matt Damon. Matt “Placeholder” Damon as I assume he’s known in “The Biz”, may indeed be a fine actor but given he has only ever played Matt Damon no one will ever really know.
*****Someone from Birmingham, England.