Christian Bale and Matt Damon lead motorsport drama Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold (Logan), about Ford’s battle to beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966. Other critics have been buzzing about it but is it worthy of the hype? Daniel Rutledge thinks not.
Ford v Ferrari is a frustrating watch. It has some terrific car racing scenes and expresses the passion of petrolheads well; but this is a great story with great actors that’s simply told poorly. Everyone’s trying their best, but the over-the-top cheesiness and painful predictability almost ruin the whole thing.
James Mangold’s past films prove he’s so much better than what he’s achieved here. But I place pretty much all of the blame on him for telegraphing both the dramatic beats and the comedic moments in this film so clearly they almost never land. Moreover, when something is played for laughs, the punchline is often delivered multiple times so even if you did find it funny the first time, you surely won’t by the last.
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But that hammering everything home much harder than necessary and clearly signposting it long before it happens hurts more in the non-funny moments. I mean, please don’t tell us how a guy ‘might’ die halfway through the film, for God’s sake! Sure, it’ based on a true story, but that sort of pre-announcing is a spoiler for those of us who don’t know how it all ends and if you do, you don’t need a reminder of what to expect before it actually happens. Also, I feel a little mean saying this, but the over-acting of the central child actor hurts the drama, too.
There definitely is stuff to enjoy. Matt Damon and Christian Bale both turn in fine performances and the characters they’re portraying, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, are captivating guys. The speed and danger of 24 Hours of Le Mans in the ’60s is well represented and often thrilling, despite Bale’s unnecessary commentary while he’s driving. And the tale of an enormous, morally questionable American corporation trying to beat a classy, independent Italian company it’s previously always lost to is also fascinating.
It’s just a shame Ford v Ferrari dumbs everything down and makes it all so aggravatingly obvious that it’s difficult to enjoy.