TIFF 2019: 'Ford v Ferrari' is the Most Dad Movie Ever Made For Dads
by Rafael Motamayor
September 15, 2019
Sometimes a movie doesn't need to do anything extraordinary, but just be "ok". Sometimes you see a movie and after 15 minutes you just know that your dad will love it. At this year's Toronto Film Festival, that movie was Ford v. Ferrari, a movie that seems engineered and assembled by a committee of dads to be seen and enjoyed by dads everywhere. Director James Mangold takes on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966, more specifically, Ford's bid to build a race car worthy of beating the undefeated champion, Ferrari. We follow Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former race car driver who had already won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959, being the rare American to do so. Sadly, his career comes to a halt due to a weak heart valve.
Carroll Shelby is given a new opportunity to get back in the world of racing after the Ford Motor Company approaches him to build a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans so that baby boomers of driving age will look at Ford cars as sexy and desirable. He then looks towards his old friend, the arrogant and terrible people-person Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who is also an extremely brilliant driver. Shelby eventually convinces Miles to help build old Henry Ford Jr. (Tracy Letts) a car, and then race it.
Mangold seems to realize there is nothing new or exciting left to do with this type of biographical drama, and he doesn't fight it either, as Ford v. Ferrari fully embraces every trope in the book. Screenwriters Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, have "Shelby/Miles try and fail to design the perfect car" on a loop for most the film. They also build tension between the two so-called friends that is an opportunity for funny banter and a clash of personalities, and they add an unnecessary family subplot to Miles' character that never evolves beyond "here's his wife (Caitriona Balfe) and son (Noah Jupe)."
That being said, Mangold certainly knows how to frame and shoot a damn thrilling race scene. There are numerous driving sequences in the film, and each of them will get your heart racing with high-octane action and extreme speed that will make your hands sweat in anticipation of something horrible happening. The excellent claustrophobic cinematography by Phedon Papamichael puts you right in the driver's seat, and the dynamic score by Marco Baltrami and Buck Sanders' is both spirited and thrilling, mixing country with rock sounds that enhances the blood-pumping action. Even though the film clocks in at over two and a half hours, editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland keep the momentum going at all times, making the whole affair feel as brisk as one of the hundreds of laps of the Le Mans race track.
It is strange to see a film like Ford v. Ferrari be released today. Not only are the big-budget adult dramas nearly gone, but a movie that's all about the power of creative people and how doing things by committee always ruins things will give you pause considering this is being released by Disney (they now own 20th Century Fox, who originally developed this). Mangold's Ford v. Ferrari has excellent sound design that will surely keep it in the running come awards season, but it is otherwise a paint-by-the-numbers biographical drama that doesn't offer anything new. That being said, your dad will love it.
Raf's TIFF 2019 Rating: 7 out of 10
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