MOVIE REVIEW: Ford v Ferrari

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious endurance races in autosports. Conducted on an 8.5-mile circuit in the sleepy French town of Le Mans, the race travels over countryside roads throughout the course of an entire day, requiring teams to swap between three drivers regularly, relay-runner style. Drivers and cars must be prepared for the elements as it rains frequently, and within each lap lie both a challenging 90-degree turn and 200+ mph straightaways. Even beginning the race is dangerous, as drivers uniquely line up on the track opposite their cars and at the drop of the starting flag sprint to their vehicles, rushing to take off in a flurry of chaotic action that is as exciting as it is insane. Winning the race isn’t easy, but accomplishing the feat against fellow manufacturing giants of the industry brings the victorious automotive team great glory and often heavy sales. In 1963, Henry Ford II decided that he wanted a piece of this action, and after a failed bid to purchase Ferrari (including its racing team that won the Le Mans in 1958 and every year from 1960-1965), he decided that if he couldn’t own the Italian sports car manufacturer, he would do everything in his power to beat them where it would hurt most – on the track at Le Mans. And in doing so, a rivalry was born.

“Ford v Ferrari” is a biographical action-packed drama from Director James Mangold (“Logan”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “Walk the Line”)  that tells the story of Ford Motor Company’s journey to beat its Italian rivals. The key to this project was automotive designer and former Le Mans driving champion Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who is brought on by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a car that could compete with the racing titans of the world. Shelby knows that a car is only as good as the man steering its wheel, though, and despite consistent pushback from Ford marketing man Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), he eventually brings on his close friend, the sometimes difficult but brilliant English engineer and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to hopefully pilot this new machine to victory lane.

Surprisingly, “Ford v Ferrari” has less racing action than you might expect in its 2.5-hour runtime. Mangold really leans into the drama of Ford’s capitalistic motivations and how it complicated the achievement of its own goals due to control issues and typical business-driven decision-making. There are two standout racing sequences, however, that are exactly the edge-of-your-seat, heart-pumping, adrenaline-boosting, high-speed affairs that audiences desire. Expertly crafted and shot, then combined with the delightful roar of racecar sounds and backed with a propulsive score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, these scenes are intense as can be and evoke a rousing response. Character investment plays a big role in this, as audiences are easily drawn to rooting for the Shelby and Miles racing team due to their depiction as wholesome, driven men of integrity who are navigating a challenging business landscape to chase their dreams.

The cast is full of wonderful supporting performances, but lead actors Damon and Bale play brilliantly off of each other as both longtime friends and similarly-obsessed colleagues, with the latter being especially noteworthy for his portrayal of a devoted and loving family man who treads the line between egotistical and confident when it comes to his skill with a car. Both bring a great deal of humor to their roles, as well, and deliver a script full of wit and technical terminology with talent worthy of awards recognition. Letts is also a highlight as “Deuce”, the Ford Motor Company President determined to live up to his grandfather’s legacy and keep Ford at the top of the automotive world.

Mangold is in top-form, directing with a confidant, fine-tuned precision, and though long, “Ford v Ferrari” is so full of energy and so expertly edited that you never feel its length. Its legendary, wholesome central characters are full of charm and watching their journey is an exciting and joyful treat. “Ford v Ferrari” is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2019, a gripping biopic with thrilling action and smashing performances that is sure to satisfy both fans of human drama and autosports alike, and it will go down as one of the definitive race-car movies ever made.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 036: The Post

We’ve gotten together to talk about Steven Spielberg’s newest film, The Post, a dramatization of the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which exposed government secrets and lies about the Vietnam War. With a cast led by superstars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, this story of unbiased journalism is extremely relevant and sure to land numerous Oscar nominations.


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MOVIE REVIEW: The Post

THE POST (2017)

GOING IN

True story – my dream career for two decades was newspaper editor. Not an astronaut or a doctor or Major League Baseball player. I grew up with a very strong interest in journalism and political science. Had my life taken a different path, perhaps those two subjects would have resulted in college degrees that eventually led me to that desk job at a major paper.

The Post dramatizes the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed government secrets and lies about the Vietnam War. With a cast led by superstars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and directed by Steven Spielberg, this story of unbiased journalism is extremely relevant and sure to land numerous Oscar nominations. The question is, will it be more All President’s Men or Spotlight? And will it rekindle my dreams or put me at ease about missing out?


COMING OUT

Standing ovation. That’s my initial reaction when the credits start to roll. I simply don’t clap for movies. It feels odd to do so when there is no one present to actually receive the praise being given from said action, but this film was the rare exception that made me want to.

The Post story, I’m ashamed to say, is not one that I was familiar with, but is a piece of history that is vitally important for all Americans to know well. Essentially the Nixon administration and government before him had a pretty bad habit of making decisions based on public perception instead of what might actually be best for the country. There was also a culture of “friendship” between the press and the White House that called into question the bias of reporting. All that was brought into focus, though, when the New York Times first published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. After Nixon fails to persuade the NYT to cease publishing, a federal court does so claiming the papers violate the Espionage Act of 1917 due to their classified nature.

This is where The Washington Post, published by Katharine Graham (Streep) and edited by Ben Bradlee (Hanks) comes in. Hanks portrays Bradlee with a staunch patriotism and determination to do what he feels is right, which is always give the public the truth. “The only way to protect the right to publish, is to publish,” he says more than once, as he pushes his team to locate the Pentagon Papers and convince Graham to publish despite the potential consequences. Graham not only must face the risk of her career and freedom, but must do so in a world that where women were not frequently in positions of power. Streep’s performance is inspiring in the way it captures both the spirited strength of Graham as well as her nervous fears. Hanks is also fantastic and the chemistry between these two star-studded actors in a joy to behold.

Spielberg has also assembled an incredible supporting cast around Hanks and Streep. Bob Odenkirk stands out the most as reporter Ben Bagdikian, the man in charge of locating the Pentagon Papers for The Post. His resolve never waivers once and he is the perfect extension of Bradlee’s mantra that freedom of the press must survive because as he says about the government “If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” John Williams’ score is much more minimalist than usual, but equally effective. It accentuates perfectly those heightened moments of drama with Oscar-worthy speeches, breaths collectively being held as decisions are awaited, and once scene where Spielberg shoots the printing press like it was in an action movie.

VERDICT

The Post features Spielberg’s best work in ages and the timeless greatness of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep is on full display. This all-star team-up provides the goods in telling an important story about the place of journalism in society and the necessity of checks and balances for public servants. Emotionally speaking, everything works here and comes together into a rousing picture that champions a right which Americans must cling to more than ever today. See it in a theater. See it with your children. As much a vital history lesson as outstanding entertainment, The Post is one of this year’s best films and should not be missed.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.