Ford v. Ferrari

Director: James Mangold

Screenwriters: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, and Tracy Letts

Ford v. Ferrari was released November 15th, and that makes sense because it’s a finely set table of exactly what you expect in heaping quantities with few surprises, and when you’re done you need a nap.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale headline this cinematic slog through the American pastime of driving cars fast. Damon plays Carroll Shelby, a famous race car driver and designer who finds himself with a heart condition that forces him to end his driving career. Of course, you can take the driver out of the car, but you can’t take the car out of the driver, and soon Shelby is busy working for Ford to deliver a car fast enough to defeat Ferrari at the world renowned race at Le Mans. Shelby selects hot-tempered British mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be his driver to the chagrin of Ford President Henry Ford II and VP Lee Iococca. Nonetheless, Shelby and Miles must work together with little to gain and everything to lose.

Ford v. Ferrari is this year’s Green Book. Now depending on who you are, that statement will mean different things. To me, it’s another installment in a troubling cinematic trend. Every year, a handful of “Oscar darling” films are released that follow a virtual template of style and perceived wit. Essentially odd-ducks are paired up to navigate an unkind social climate full of architypes and caricatures that must be thwarted. Movies like The Help, Green Book, and Driving Miss Daisy all fall into this category. Now like I said, you may see that list and say, well that’s a pretty good list! What’s the problem? To that I say, that upon examining these films, what you really have is a film where everyone is uni-dimensional except the principal characters, and the film progresses with a style that broadly spoon feed audiences hearty portions of quippy one-liners and unlikely conversations practically winking at the camera instead of being in the moment. Obviously, Ford v. Ferrari does not contain the racial subject matter that the other films I mentioned have, but the style of this film matches those precisely. These historic, character-driven dramas shot with this disingenuous style ring so false to me, and I wind up caring less and less.

We do have the essential ingredients to a film like this in spades though. The main characters of Shelby and Miles are portrayed strongly by Damon and Bale respectively. They ground the movie as best they can, especially through the racing scenes, of which there are many.

Director James Mangold is generally not guilty of producing these kinds of films. In fact, his 2017 film Logan was raw and exporative despite being a “comic book” movie. Ford v. Ferrari, unfortunately, has little gas in the tank and more or less feels like it’s just going in circles, taking too many pit stops before ultimately just being totaled (puns intended). C-

Ford v. Ferrari is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.

Fury

Fury“Let there be WAR!” said Brad Pitt after his wife Angelina Jolie was tapped to direct the upcoming World War II film Unbroken. Pitt stars in his own WWII film, Fury. We won’t know which is the better of the two until Unbroken premiers in December, but Pitt’s film does not disappoint. Your move, Jolie.

In Fury, Pitt plays sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier who commands the five-man tank crew of a commandeered German tank dubbed “Fury.” Wardaddy’s crew includes four other militarily nicknamed men: driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), artillery expert Grady “Coon-ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), canon operator Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), and newbie Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), later christened “Machine.” The film makes much of these alternative identities as it delves deep into the effects of war. Lerman’s Norman is the “greenhorn” of the group, having been in the army only 8 weeks when he is assigned to Pitt’s crew. Norman’s previous experience as a typist has not prepared him one bit to assume the gunman post in Collier’s squad, and it certainly has not prepared him to clean up the remains of the previous man who occupied it. Now, as the US pushes its way into Germany and Hitler’s forces grow more desperate Wardaddy and company are sent on mission after dangerous mission to secure German cities.  This is the crux of the film’s plot and while it can be viewed as modest or simplistic, it works.

Fury is directed by David Ayer whose most recent film End of Watch was a sensational piece of guttural tragedy; Fury captures that same tone vividly. While thousands of war films exist, a majority of which are World War II films, Fury rejuvenates the genre with powerful scenes of tank warfare that drip with intensity and ring with authenticity. A scene of note involves the crew facing off against a German Tiger tank where every move must be calculated to the most frustratingly critical degree or it’s lights out. What Ayer accomplishes with both his direction and his screenplay is that he strikes an engaging balance between the rigors of war and the humanity of its soldiers.

The sets are truly remarkable and combined with some of the camera work they can be devastatingly heartbreaking in the style of Saving Private Ryan or even Gone with the Wind. Still at times the film can feel a bit uncoordinated and even cliché especially in some of the dialogue, but Fury thrives more on action and mood than it does conversation. This is also a far more bloody and violent film than I expected. Some of the horrific gruesomeness may have been avoidable, but when looking at the film’s overall ambition, much of it is warranted. At the end, Fury is a surprisingly refreshing look at warfare and camaraderie that is well-acted and feels unique. Angelina Jolie has her work cut out for her. B+

Fury is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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