Imagine if ‘Invictus’ was about a bunch of already very wealthy capitalists who instead of promoting national harmony set out to trump some Italians.
Seriously; Matt Damon (former racing champ Caroll Shelby) is brought in so the much more stately Tracey Letts’ Henry Ford II can beat Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans and prove they’re the very very best.
There’s a couple of inspiring speeches though nothing on Eastwood’s effort and as good as James Mangold is at sometimes getting us excited it’s very hard to get comparably worked up about who’s going to get those cars out the door.
With Shelby bringing in a like racing stalwart to quite literally drive things, Christian Bale no doubt has fun voicing something more akin to his natural accent. Bale doesn’t get nearly so much scope here to play off his ‘The Big Short’ co-star Letts but the scenes where he is front and centre are by far the best; predictably leveraging a much more complex performance than the here coasting Damon.
Too shining in the action sequences, there’s a rarely compulsive quality to the recurring racing recreations that will have many an even less than casual racing fan, this author among them, entranced. Told largely from Miles’ perspective, our point of view darts about the track and prospective obstacles though never in a manner so blinding nor distracting to confuse any sense of spatial awareness; it being clear at all times where we are and what’s at stake.
Importantly, the tension never lets up even throughout races staged over many hours; at those instances when stretches of time do jump forward it is always clearly signposted so we are never off track even amidst the most hectic encounters. When the perspective shifts between Miles’ front seat and Shelby at the pit stop the pacing within the sequence significantly doesn’t stray or leap; maintaining the sense of urgency and compounding the strong dynamic and charisma between the two well-drawn personalities.
Conversely, the dialogue-driven sequences and much of the first two acts are very standard, painstakingly generic fare typical of much studio output intended, as the film so achieves here, to inoffensively and lightly entertain. This is far from the case for aspects of the third act; the treatment of the resolution of the final race (not all dimensions of the actual story are touched on here) broaching thematic ground, tapped into earlier by Bale’s stark and evolving characterisation of his striving, idiosyncratic loner, that the creators could have done well to better tap into and indeed make a centrepiece. It’s a moving penultimate moment and one the movie just as well could have ended on rather than continuing to pivot to Damon’s Shelby; for as much as he is the centre of attention this is really Bale’s film, with Miles’ limited ‘team-player’ arc proving much more interesting.
Settling however on a fixating if predominantly bland retelling (save of course any sequence on a race track); ‘Ford v Ferrari’ is not nearly the full story but it’s one to pass the time.
Ford v Ferrari is in cinemas now