Everyone is raving about the performances of Matt Damon (he has a nice Texas accent going) and Christian Bale (he has his usual facial and vocal tics going). They were good, but my two favorite performances were Tracy Letts (as Henry Ford II) and Jon Bernthal (as Lee Iacocca, in a part that was a bit underwritten).
In 1966, British mechanic and racer Ken Miles (Bale) was hired by Carroll Shelby (Damon), to design a car for Ford that would finally defeat Ferrari. Much like the enjoyment I had watching the documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, it’s fun that most of us don’t know what happened. The bad news for director James Mangold (Logan, Cop Land, Walk the Line, Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma)…is that Ron Howard already gave us Rush, another real life story involving race car drivers that was much more interesting. It had better racing segments as well as showing us interesting ways that a car is designed to go faster. This movie isn’t reinventing the (race car) wheel, it’s just adding another formulaic, serviceable picture that will be overly hyped by critics. For me, it just didn’t get me too emotionally involved in Ken Miles’ journey. He and Shelby both had chemistry, and it was fun watching their love/hate relationship. Although I sometimes wondered…why should we like someone as snotty as Miles; or when we see Shelby at a race, stealing another team’s stopwatches and leaving bolts on the ground to make the pit crew worry. Isn’t that like cheating? I guess the fact that Miles is so good with his son (Noah Jupe), we can root for him over the evil Italians building their Ferraris for rich people. It’s just a shame, because Mangold captured the family dynamic so well in 3:10.
Like most sports biopics, there’s the wife that wants the athlete to give up the dangerous sport. There’s the underdog aspect. There’s the evil guy (Josh Lucas playing a stooge working for Henry Ford II). And of course, if that sports picture takes place before 1970, that wife is listening intently to the radio (or watching a black-and-white TV).
Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who worked with the director on a few other films, does a great job with the racing segments and montages.
Composer Marco Beltrami, who has also worked with Mangold on other films, does an outstanding score that has a ‘60s, Duane Eddy vibe. That rocked me as much as some of the muscle car engines.
As we left the theatre, my wife said she liked the movie and thought it would be great for families. I liked it, albeit less than her, and think she’s wrong about it being good for families. Anyone under 16 will be bored (especially with a 2 ½ hour run time). Often times, it’s just guys arguing; either over how to build a car, or who should be racing that car at Le Mans.
There weren’t many things for women to do in this movie. Caitriona Balfe plays Miles’ wife, and she mostly hands him beers, cheers him on, and scolds him on occasion [side note: did she get the part because her name consists of almost the same letters as “Christian Bale”?]. I do like that they cast a woman that looks normal, and isn’t drop dead gorgeous.
Movies (especially ones that involve fast cars) really need to retire scenes where people are on regular streets driving crazy. This film starts and ends with Shelby peeling out and making a U-turn without looking, into oncoming traffic. How is that a cool move? In real life if we see somebody do that, we flip them off, or call them crazy. On screen…what? We’re supposed to think it’s cool because it’s Matt Damon and he’s wearing cool sunglasses?
Speaking of cool, it was cool the way Shelby and Miles refer to Henry Ford II as “Deuce.”
Obviously, if you’re interested in cars, this is the movie for you. If you’re not, there’s still enough of interest to seek it out. When I worked in radio, I interviewed racer Juan Manuel Fangio, and I knew nothing about racing, but found him very entertaining to listen to. When I asked him about how he gets a feel for a new track, he told me he often walks it before the race. We get a scene of Miles doing that here; but my point is, you don’t have to be a fan of racing to appreciate stories about the sport, or a film about it.
The movie gets bonus points for playing great songs like I Put A Spell On You, Money, and Don’t Bring Me Down (why don’t we hear more Animals on screen?). And did I mention that amazing score by Beltrami, as well as the awesome sound design, that puts your ears right on the track. The editing was also top notch.
Movie ticket prices can be expensive these days, but if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up for this [bonus points if you get the movie/Ferrari reference made there].
3 stars out of 5.