Ford vs Ferrari

Year: 2019
Production Co: Chernin Entertainment
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Peter Chernin/James Mangold
Writer: Jez Butterworth/John-Henry Butterworth/Jason Keller
Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Catriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Noah Jupe

Christian Bale's always occupied an interesting area in pop cinema. He's an intense, brooding presence you'd imagine being at home in far more esoteric work from David Lynch, Todd Haynes (who he's actually worked for in the Bob Dylan fever dream I'm Not There), Wes Anderson or Nic Winding Refn.

But he brings that intense dedication to more mainstream fare than his persona suggests, whether it's playing Moses in the old style biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, the strung out brother/trainer to a Boston boxer in The Fighter or the most populist of movie characters, Batman.

And in almost all those roles he brings something that makes it more than just reading the words in the script – just watch what he did as the Aspergers genius savant with the glass eye thanks to a childhood injury in The Big Short.

There's less room to really stretch as the socially brusque, Cockney family man race car driver Ken Miles, but he's still a pleasure to watch. He's also ably supported by Matt Damon as car designer Carrol Shelby, and because he plays the same aw shucks-y nice guy he always does, albeit with a bit of a darker edge thanks to his determination to win, the pair meet nicely in the middle.

Less well served is the long absent Josh Lucas as snivelling, one note Ford company man Leo Beebe, but the balance between he and the lead pair nicely encapsulates the film as a whole – it's deep and emotionally intensive when it needs to be, but isn't above using ciphers and plot devices to carry you through a light but cracking yarn.

It's the mid sixties and Ferrari wins every Le Mans race there is. Ford, under the leadership of Henry Ford's brash grandson CEO Henry II (Tracy Letts), appoints designer Carrol Shelby to handpick a team and build a race car (including selecting the driver) to beat Ferrari and take a bit of shine off its prestige name.

But even when he's given the resources and means to get the job done, the ambitious designer is like a film director working for a huge studio constantly battling interference, cuts, imposed changes and struggling not to merely shill a corporate agenda every step of the way. It doesn't help that his partner, Miles, isn't at all a smiling, photogenic company man but a blowhard with a bad temper who rejects everything about the pursuit except for the purity of where the car meets the road.

The whole saga is told against the backdrop of several race sequences (including the eponymous race at the end of the film) that contain some great cinematography and sound design that's best experienced in a large, loud cinema.

It takes just enough character depth and perfectly workable scripting with an old style Hollywood blend of heroes journey and one of the perennial crowd-pleasers of the art form (the cinematic thrills of a loud, fast and dangerous sport) and blends them not just in the right amounts, but seamlessly.

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