Fast Times, by Bob Connally

18 Nov

Ford v Ferrari, the new based-on-a-true-story/underdog vs. the world/sort of dual biopic is a movie that feels very familiar. The story beats and character dynamics are ones that audiences know well. Even if you don’t know the details of this particular story (as I did not), one more or less knows how things are going to turn out. There is nothing challenging about it and it is probably just what you are expecting it to be. Of course, there’s no reason a movie like that can’t be incredibly entertaining, and thankfully that’s what Ford v Ferrari is. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan) has delivered a movie that is involving, exhilarating, and makes you want to drive fast.

After winning the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1959, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is forced into early retirement as a race car driver due to a heart condition. For the next few years, Shelby uses his notoriety to manufacture and sell cars, but his desire to return to the racing world still burns within him. Meanwhile, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is enraged and embarrassed by his company’s sales slump. Ford’s VP Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) suggests a bold strategy. To become attractive to the youth of America, Ford will build a race car that will beat Ferrari at Le Mans, something no one has been able to do for years. Iacocca believes Shelby is the man to build it, while Shelby knows only one driver who can handle the beast of a vehicle they’ll need to produce: Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

At the age of 45, Miles is a British World War II veteran who is struggling to provide for his family. His abrasive nature drives customers away from his repair shop and prevents him from making any real money as a racing driver. Ford’s senior VP Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) doesn’t want the “unreliable” Miles behind the wheel, telling Shelby he’s “not a Ford man.” The film may be titled Ford v Ferrari, but the story is more about Shelby and Miles v Committee Thinking.

The screenplay, written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, nicely develops the characters and story with solid dialogue and a sense of humor. There’s nothing incredibly striking about the writing here, but it does what it needs to do very well. Mangold keeps things well-paced and, even with its 152 minute running time, it never lags. He allows the performances to shine, with Damon showing Shelby’s rebellious streak beneath his diplomatic exterior. Bale is outstanding, playing Miles as a seemingly-reckless man with no filter, but one who loves his wife and son more than anything in the world. Miles drives hard but the movie subtly shows that he is not one to take stupid risks. He knows cars inside and out and his choices behind the wheel are informed ones. Lucas does a terrific job with a character that 9 times out of 10 is overdone. His Beebe is the kind of punchable smarmy corporate yes man that rarely feels like a real person in a film like this. Lucas keeps him from becoming a caricature by keeping his true feelings understated. It’s somewhat of a thankless task to play a character like that but it’s worth noting how well Lucas does it here.

As for the racing scenes, they are immersive and riveting. Mangold, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, and editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland do a phenomenal job of making these scenes exciting and occasionally terrifying. Just as importantly, we can always tell what is happening, and they keep the focus on the characters, just as the non-racing scenes do. The climactic Le Mans sequence is long, as it should be, and it’s gripping every step of the way.

Ford v Ferrari doesn’t break any new ground or leave you with much to think about afterwards but it is as entertaining as can be. It’s thrilling and has a beating heart thanks to its focus on character. This is just what one hopes a movie like this will be and it gives people a reason to go see it on the big screen.

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