Time Out says
Sponsored racecar drivers feel the need for speed in a drama goosed by star power but slackened by corporate intrigue.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale, both returning to their boyish, likable modes, race cars and squabble like brothers in Ford v Ferrari, a ’60s period piece that works best when it stays on track, literally, in the crush of competitive pressure. Texan Carroll Shelby (Damon), an inspired car constructor whose heart problems stalled his career, and Ken Miles (Bale), the salty British-born driver who would dominate the field, were a real-life duo born to be at the center of a chatty action movie. Logan director James Mangold loads the drama with banter just like Howard Hawks would have done (Hawks’s own Red Line 7000 has Shelby’s cars in it), and even has the two men wrestling in the dirt while a wife waits it out, a scene nicked from Red River.
The larger set-up, though, reveals Ford v Ferrari to be one of those oddly misshapen beasts: an anti-corporate studio movie that tries to celebrate individuality while keeping things stiffly in the middle of the road. Brusque Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) hopes to make a name for himself beyond his father’s massive reputation; he’s convinced by various suck-ups (Jon Bernthal and a clownish Josh Lucas, primarily) to take on Ferrari at the 24-hour Le Mans showdown, and maybe recast the Ford Company as something hotter. (“Kids today—they want glamour, sex appeal,” Bernthal’s Lee Iacocca says.) This kind of rebranding intrigue may play well for any stray marketers in your audience, but it’s a dull peg to hang a movie on; the film stalls whenever it’s trying to be Mad Men.
Thankfully, that’s not the whole time (at one point, a fussy exec gets locked in an office while the movie has fun without him). Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brings an electric clarity to the driving scenes, especially when Le Mans is pounded by a rainstorm and the whole idea of a nonstop race seems like a death wish. And Damon and Bale are unfailingly enjoyable company to be among, steering the psychology away from alpha-male dominance to something more complex and occasionally mystical. Bale makes a meal out of some spacy dialogue about the “perfect lap”; you can also hear him giddy-yap like a cowboy behind the wheel, grinning as wide as a little kid. No points for knowing who takes the racing trophy, or for knowing which version of Ford v Ferrari—the half-smart business fable or the rough-and-ready boys’ own adventure—ultimately wins you over.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew