The green flag dropped on Ford v Ferrari with high hopes. But in the end, it’s like a race car with an average engine but a superior driver: destined to finish in the middle of the pack, its presence quickly forgotten. (Even the driver that flames out on a warm up lap gets some press for finishing last)
Movie Gets A Bale-out
Christian Bale makes this movie worth watching. His performance as temperamental and beleaguered Ken Miles gives this movie heart and a little soul. Honestly, the movie should be called Ford v Ken Miles.
And while the events in the film are true (with some Hollywood glitter spackled on), most of the supporting cast is two-dimensional at best.
The story goes that in the 1960s, Ford wanted to buy Ferrari Motor Co., and when he was played against another bidder for a bigger payday, determined he would build a great engine to beat the legendary race king. Oversimplified for film, but fine.
Ford Jr. is a prudish man (James Bond is to be morally reviled). His head of racing doesn’t want Ken behind the wheel because he’s not a “Ford man,” and is willing to sacrifice the entire operation for petty grievances. Most of the time he has a Doctor Evil aura around him. The character is cartoonish, at best.
Ken’s wife is the token female in the cast. Yes, racing was (is?) a male dominated field from designing to testing to taking the green flag. So they tried to have Mollie Miles soften his edges, while his son is around to give him more depth and foreshadow the end. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, especially if it actually happened. But the characters are treated as afterthoughts. The performances are fine, given what they have to work with.
Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, Ken’s champion, working to get his man in the race car despite the concerns of Ken’s family and Ford et al. His character has some good moments, usually shared with Bale.
Failure To Launch
The real failure of this movie is that it offers up one thing in the marketing, and delivers something completely different on-screen.
It’s supposed to be Ford versus Ferrari. America versus Italy/Europe/the world. It is not. Ferrari is used as some villainous catalyst. He looms over the main race in the box next to the American team. But the real contest is to see if Ford will succeed in beating itself.
There’s a ton of racing to lure in gear heads in the ads. People who know a lot about cars, especially cars of the era, will feel some nostalgia. And the racing is okay, but not great. The event of hitting 7,000 RPM is imbued with some spiritual significance, akin to breaking the Earth’s gravitational field. But none of it fulfills the promise of the marketing campaign.
On the whole, this is a rental. Even the racing scenes don’t need to be seen on the big screen.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Growing up in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I quickly learned that champions drink milk. That won’t do for this site, so let’s go with a White Russian, it’s milky-ish.. with a kick!