Oscar Nominations 2020 – FILM REVIEW: Ford v Ferrari / Le Mans ’66 (2019)

Dir: James Mangold

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

Score: ★★☆☆☆

Ford v Ferrari or as it’s known in the UK Le Mans ’66, is the latest output by James Mangold, most well known for Cop Land, Girl Interrupted, Walk The Line and both Hugh Jackman X- Men spin-offs Wolverine and Logan. A reasonably serviceable commercial director Mangold’s racing film makes more sense when using it’s U.S. moniker as although the film culminates at the Le Mans 24 hour motor race of 1966, this is really the story of the two men who forged a race winning car from the ground up, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) in an effort to help Ford’s perceived problem of not being cool / sexy enough as compared to their more glamorous race winning counterparts at Ferrari. One big PR exercise leads to one of the only American drivers (now retired) to the ever win the Le Mans race, Shelby, to seek the assistance of slightly eccentric British (now living in the U.S.) race car river and mechanic in Ken Miles.

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Matt Damon in his stetson.

The film always feels a little at odds with itself, as after trying to purchase Ferrari and being turned down fairly emphatically the film shifts to a faint whiff of “we will show those I TaLyans whose best”, but all the while Matt Damon seeks to win this one for Ford whilst wearing his stetson, and by implication “fer Merica”, there is Christian Bale. It’s like two different films are happening, one with country music, cowboy boot and 60s Mad Men, while Miles played by Ken is a slightly bizarre British northern character who at any moment you wouldn’t be surprised if he just blurted out “CRACKING CHEESE GROMIT”. Seeing the trans continental Bale attempt such broad northern accent has to be one the strangest things to come out of this year’s crop of award season movies.

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Christian Bale as Ken or possibly Wallace in Wallace & Gromit.

The biggest question is why on earth is this movie even nominated for best picture anyway? I mean it’s not a terrible movie per se. It’s slightly elongated running time of 152 minutes does give opportune time for the story to breath and apart from the slightly incongruous ways the film tries to shoehorn in Mile’s wife into the story it does get you interested (as far as someone can be who doesn’t know a carburetor from a carbon monoxide detector) in the creation of the cars and the drive (no pun intended) it takes to get from nowhere to number one against the world’s most elite racing team. The emotional anchor of Mile’s family does come across odd at times, let’s face it this is a film about blokes and cars, but the film does create a small sense of affection for it’s leads by the end, leading you to think that maybe watching a film that appears to be shot like one long Coca Cola advert wasn’t a complete waste of time.

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Testing an engine or something.

 

I have no doubt some of the race scenes will irk racing buffs for a few of their more unbelievable moments despite it being a true story (the director seems to admit he knows nothing about racing) but as drama the high speed editing and camera work come together quite well and will be relatively enjoyable even if it’s not your thing. The stakes in the races are clearly laid out in advance, and thus you do care enough about what happens in the races when they happen. Racing movies always have limitations, but this one does have sharp dramatic racing scenes and enough running time to make you at feel at home with the characters whom the always watchable Damon and Bale ably play. It’s a bit cartoonish and definitely not a best picture contender but for those reasons it’s not a total crash and burn. There are worse ways to throw away a few hours whilst eating popcorn.

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