Friday, November 15, 2019

Oscar Bait: Ford V Ferrari

Wait, I thought YOU wrote down where we parked the car.

Here's something I never have to see again and yet have seen in no less than three movies in the last week: A scene where the wife of the hero chews out the hero for doing the very thing the hero will be known for doing. Typically, it's the wife of a cop, or a doctor, but in Ford v Ferrari it's the wife of race-car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

And in this case, it is such a contrived bit of drama because when we're introduced to Mollie Miles (Caitriona Balfe), director James Mangold makes it very clear that she's into the whole car thing, and clearly knew the type of man she had married. That introduction gave me hope this very dude-centric movie had at least tossed us a token cool chick. Alas.

And Ford v. Ferrari (better titled Le Mans '66 abroad) is definitely a bro-fest, with bellowing performances from Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby (what's with Matt Damon and characters named Carol/Carroll?), Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II, and Josh Lucas as weasely Ford executive Leo Beebee.

As much as I love that era of muscle cars, I'm way less interested in the sports cars and auto-racing of the time. And that's probably why I had never heard the story of how then VP of Ford Motor Company Lee Iaccoca (Jon Bernthal) decided in the mid 1960's that the company should win the 24 hour Le Mans race to help boost sales, and if that meant buying Ferrari to do it, so be it. When that scheme crashed and burned, they decided to make their own race car, roping in racer and car designer Carroll Shelby (he of Shelby Mustang fame), who in turn recruited racer and engineer Ken Miles to help build it.

For a movie about fast cars, it drags, and at two-and-a-half hours long it could have used some serious trimming (might I suggest a certain scene involving a screaming wife?) That said, the performances are solidly entertaining, by both the cars and the actors (though sometimes the cars overshadow the stars). I'll also say Christian Bale, an actor who has always annoyed me in some way or another in every movie I've ever seen him in, gives what I think is his most enjoyable performance ever. Director Mangold films the racing scenes well, thankfully not resorting to nausea inducing shaky camera work, and for the most part, the action is indeed exciting and crowd pleasing. But anyone who has watched a race, especially a long one, can't deny it can get monotonous. The same holds true for Ford v Ferrari.