Quick Hit: A bit overlong but manages to maintain a pace that is strong and consistent.
James Mangold directed one of my favorite movies of the past few years in Logan. I saw that one three times in theaters. Some of that may have had to do with the fact Wolverine is probably my favorite Marvel hero, but a lot of it had to do with the masterful way that Mangold took the concept of an aging superhero and gave us something new and different. He also coaxed what I believed should have been an Oscar nominated performance out of Jackman for the role as the titular hero. Here, he moves forth into the realm of European racing and the development of Shelby/Ford as one of the titular American racing teams in a way that feels new despite following a formulaic plot.
The film starts out with the introduction of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) as he retires from racing due to hypertension issues. We follow him into his new career as a car designer and race manager, which leads us to the introduction of Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British man that was came to the country looking for work with cars, and finding an obsession that he was talented at. Indeed, Bale, who is no stranger to superheroes himself, nearly finds himself presented with superpowers once more. These are more in line with Ironman, in that he truly understands vehicles and understands the physics behind what make them purr. He also is a bit of a loose cannon, frequently going off on bursts against the system and high powered suits that support it.
While the movie may be framed in the terms of Ford vs. Ferrari in the sense that the two automotive designers end up competing, the movie itself seems to focus on the conflict that is generated between the executives within Ford and the blue collar workers that are doing the job. This includes both Shelby and Miles, as they manage to work through the majority of the issues that they face in order to compete in the Le Mans 24 hour race as their own racing team. To give a face to this conflict (and indeed, to keep with historical accuracy), Mangold went with Josh Lucas in the role as Leo Beebe, one of Ford’s top executives. He manages to exude the correct amount of slime and also manages to make you believe that he actually believes that is what is best for the company – not just himself (though that is a factor as well).
Speaking of the performers, Bale gives Miles such a large personality that it’s nearly impossible not to like him. One character remarks “He’s difficult, but he’s good”, and while cliché, it manages to voice what you see of Miles throughout the film. He also manages to overcome this a bit – we’re shown that Ken is a family man who is willing to give up his dreams in order to support his family. But it’s his trademark physicality that really gives the character some heart. Miles is constantly talking to himself or to the car (or other inanimate objects), and sometimes this is humorous – more often it just reaffirms the man’s genius. Damon gives a good foil to this performance, as his Carroll is quiet and brooding at times. He also gives some terrific monologue performances that hint at the darkness that hides within a man who is unable to do what he really loves anymore.
There are some really good supporting players here as well. Most movies like this manage to push the wife’s role to be a doting, supporting wife who has no life outside of her husband. Caitriona Balfe excels as Miles’ wife Mollie – she gives the character a real depth and is frequently on screen. I also would point out a strong turn by Ray McKinnon as one of the engineers on Carroll’s team, as he plants the seeds that Mangold reinforces of the real dangers that the test drivers and the racers face each day.
In the end, it’s a movie that excels at a lot. Like a car that’s cold at the start, it takes a while to get going, but accelerates quickly and eventually manages to run smoothly despite the race being long. I’m going to give the film a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"