‘Ford v Fer­rari’ a pleas­ant (fast) ride

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE - MARK KENNEDY

Cops might do well to po­si­tion their speed traps near movie the­atres wher­ever the new film “Ford v Fer­rari” is play­ing. They might fund their whole year’s bud­get busting speed­ers peel­ing out of the park­ing lots.

This in­fec­tious and en­gross­ing story of the 1966 show­down on a French race­track be­tween car gi­ants Ford and Fer­rari is a high-oc­tane ride that will make you in­stinc­tively stomp on a ghostly gas pedal from your movie seat.

But you don’t need to be a mo­tor head to en­joy Matt Da­mon and Chris­tian Bale as a pair of rebels risk­ing it all for pu­rity and glory. Yes, di­rec­tor James Man­gold takes you down onto the race­way, with cam­eras low to the ground and care to show the crack of gear shifts and feet on ped­als.

Yet he’s not cre­ated a “Fast and Fu­ri­ous” film — this is more a drama about a pair of vi­sion­ar­ies who fight against a smarmy bu­reau­cracy. That vi­sion hap­pens to be on a track.

The first three-quar­ters of “Ford v Fer­rari “sets the stage for the fu­ri­ous 40minute restag­ing of the ex­haust­ing Le Mans race — a 3,000-mile, 24-hour slalom through coun­try roads. So metic­u­lous have the film­mak­ers been that they built an en­tire ac­cu­rate Le Mans in Ge­or­gia be­cause the orig­i­nal has been too al­tered in the in­ter­ven­ing years. (There are not many cases when Ge­or­gia acts as a stand-in for La France.)

Da­mon plays the le­gendary Amer­i­can driver and car de­signer Car­roll Shelby, who won Le Mans in 1959 but gets side­lined from driv­ing due to a bad heart. He con­sid­ers the best driver in the world to be Ken Miles, a dare­devil Bri­tish missile played by Bale.

If Da­mon is a bad boy, then Bale is a bad-bad boy, a role per­fectly in his wheel­house, an­other in­tense, al­most-over-the-top role. But it’s Da­mon, al­most sub­dued with lit­tle fire­works nec­es­sary, who shows real com­pas­sion as a man caught be­tween cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity and hon­our.

Le Mans by the mid-60s was a play­thing of Fer­rari, which dom­i­nated year after year. Lee Ia­cocca, then an ex­ec­u­tive with the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany, con­vinces his boss, Henry Ford II, to en­ter the racing world and win Le Mans — not nec­es­sar­ily for glory but to make the com­pany ap­peal­ing to young buy­ers.

“James Bond does not drive a Ford, sir,”

Ia­cocca (played by Jon Bern­thal, per­fectly cast, show­ing lay­ers) tells Ford. “We need to think like Fer­rari.”

Ford ini­tially tries to do that by just buy­ing Fer­rari — but Ital­ian head Enzo Fer­rari tells the Ford del­e­ga­tion to “go back to Michi­gan, back to your big ugly fac­tory.” Boo! That nat­u­rally ruf­fles the feath­ers of Henry Ford’s son (Tracy Letts, light­ing up every scene with un­pre­dictable en­ergy) and so Ford is now ready to build its own race team.

The screen­writ­ers Jez But­ter­worth, John-Henry But­ter­worth and Ja­son Keller have fleshed out the tale with glimpses into the per­sonal costs to Miles’ fam­ily (the en­chant­ing Caitri­ona Balfe as his wife and their young son.) Their quiet mo­ments at home may be a lit­tle hokey but are a wel­come re­lief to the roar of the track. You can tell the writ­ers have some stage chops with tight scenes that build to great lines. “Go to war, Car­roll!” Henry Ford II bel­lows to Shelby.

The film at some points should be called “Ford v Ford” as Shelby and Miles butt heads against an army of Ford ex­ec­u­tives in Brooks Broth­ers suits. The mar­ket­ing pa­per-push­ers are con­stantly try­ing to in­sert them­selves into the race and es­pe­cially don’t want Miles to drive be­cause they deem him “not a Ford man.” Shelby fights back: “You can’t win a race by com­mit­tee.”

The film then goes to the 24 Hours of Le Mans — fake grainy TV and ra­dio broad­casts help set up the ten­sion — and you can al­most smell the burnt rub­ber. “She’s hot, mate. Crack on!” one driver says of the Ford’s GT40 Mark II. Enzo Fer­rari glow­ers from his box in the stands and the film­mak­ers don’t bother to trans­late ev­ery­thing the Ital­ian team says, so clear is the act­ing.

Many of the songs we hear are well placed — it’s got a sound­track of The An­i­mals, The Sparkles and The Quar­ry­men — plus, you’ll marvel at an­other past tech­nol­ogy: Sun­glasses in the 1960s would make any­one look cool.

Per­haps the only thing over­shad­ow­ing the two Os­car-win­ning lead ac­tors in this film are the cars. They’re truly drool-wor­thy. But be gen­tle on your gas pedal on your way home.

MER­RICK MORTON THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Matt Da­mon, left, and Chris­tian Bale along with young Noah Jupe are a joy to watch in ‘Ford V Fer­rari.’

MER­RICK MORTON 20TH CEN­TURY FOX

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