In a world actively trying to style itself after the West’s brand of development, industrialisation has been the buzz word for quite some time. Indeed, development any other way seems all but impossible.

But such an efficient means of production also exacts a heavy toll. It gives rise to soulless, mass producing, solely profit-motivated entities called corporations. And in their quest for ever bigger pieces of the pie, they devour the human spirit until nothing but a residue of it is left. Ford v Ferrari is that story.

As the title suggests, the movie is about the rivalry between two major car manufacturers, Ford Motor Company and Ferrari, as they attempt to win 1966's, 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Olympics of sports car racing. The movie is inspired by true events.

In a crude sort of way, Ford considers itself the underdog in this scenario, although one of its vice presents boasts that they produce more cars in a day than Ferrari does in a year. But the Ford leadership is convinced that it is the Ferrari brand that is nonetheless considered to be a badge of “victory,” specifically because they win at race events.

Initially, Henry Ford II, then CEO of the company, tries to buy Ferrari only to be ungraciously rejected by the founder, Enzo, who lent his last name to the Italian luxury car maker. The story would have ended there if it was not for the inflated ego of a very powerful, highly entitled heir to a gigantic manufacturing company. Ford II vows to spend what is needed to beat Ferrari at the sporting event the latter has been winning almost consecutively in the early 1960s.

That is where Shelby (Matt Damon) and Miles (Christian Bale) come in. Ford employs the former, who had won the race seven years earlier in an Aston Martin, to design a sports car to defeat Ferrari in Le Mans. Shelby in turn enlists the help of a British race car driver and mechanic whom he persuades into driving for the racing event.

For the two men, the quest becomes much more than Ford’s unquenchable ego to beat Enzo at his own game. It is about the love of the game and the astounding levels that can be reached when ambition is supported by the right amount of resources. Unfortunately, Ford’s financial interests get in the way, and the two men are presented with the uncomfortable scenario of compromising. Although it would sound extremely generic, a better title would have been Human Spirit v Corporate Greed.

The movie is directed by James Mangold, whose filmmaking record reminds me of a roller-coaster. He is equally capable of directing a cheesed up romantic comedy such as Kate & Leopold and the senseless action flicks The Wolverine and Knight and Day as he is gifted at inspiring amazing performances in films such as Girl, Interrupted, Logan and this movie.

He does not have a signature style or even a preferred genre. He is definitely not an auteur. He is instead a modern day William Wyler, minus all the Academy Awards. His body of work is largely unimpressive, but if one is willing to look hard enough, a certain theme can be found. It is hard to definitively say given his repeated forays into popcorn flicks, but his movies do seem to champion the individual over institutions, society and the forces of nature.

If Mangold’s unique touch is imperceptible, Damon and Bale’s performances are not. Damon manages to infuse his character with a dose of maturity, playing Shelby as a man who, unable to race, is nonetheless determined to oversee Miles beat Ferrari and then Ford.

It may not be surprising, but Bale does manage to outperform Damon. At times sad, other times driven and temperamental, he comes out as authentic like he always does.

But it is Tracy Letts, a Pulitzer-winning playwright best known for August: Osage County, who plays Ford, who delivers the movie’s best performance. Although he appears only in a few scenes, he manages to exude the self-importance and arrogance of his character. His most impressive moment in the film comes two-thirds of the way in, where he completely breaks down in tears after being taken for a ride in a speeding sports car, in what is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen. Letts puts the “power” in powerhouse performance.

Sadly, Ford v Ferrari does not exactly stick the landing. The last five minutes seemed tacked on to give the film an optimistic tone, resulting in yet another Mangold movie that is less than a masterpiece.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 07,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1023]

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