They had it! It was right there! And some poorly thought-out last-minute decision that goes completely against everything that was set up before it swoops in and snatches defeat straight out of the jaws of victory! I was not prepared to say this here, but these are trying times and not everything goes as expected. As tragic and hyperbolic as it sounds, I will declare “Ford v Ferrari” to be the victim of the single most profound unforced error that I have witnessed in a film this year.
I will be honest, going into my viewing, I had only mild expectations for the film. I honestly hated the title because it sounded like an elementary school show that 1st-grade students put on for their parents to show that they mastered Venn diagrams. Also, the idea that I am somehow supposed to sympathize with Ford as the likable underdog instead of the anti-Semitic corporate juggernaut was beyond me, but my dad, who I saw the movie with, is a big ‘car guy’ so it seemed like a great opportunity for that classic father-son bonding time society eats up. Plus, I love Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and director James Mangold, so I’d give it a shot! And I ended up loving it!
I was so pleasantly surprised by “Ford v Ferrari” that I was just about to give it a 9.0 out of 10 (which would have qualified it to get a Best Picture Nomination on my ballot)! Bale and Damon were tremendous! They radiated charisma and understanding of their characters. Every moment with both of them was a treat. But I had always assumed that much would be the case. What caught me most off guard was just how self-aware the film was. Mangold never tries to make Ford the good guys. Other than our leads and John Bernthal’s Lee Iaccoca, everyone associated with Ford is portrayed as a snobby corporate-type that doesn’t deserve to win, specifically Josh Lucas’s Leo Beebe. I even realized that the title was purposefully misleading and clever. The story is really about Damon’s Carroll Shelby and Bale’s Ken Miles v the corporate executives at Ford, and the movie won me over! Until…
…Until that ending came in like a clean sweep to the nads. I will qualify this by saying that I understand that “true stories” need to follow facts to an extent. Typically, films will stay loyal to the big events and be flexible with the smaller details, so I have no objection to how the race ended. That was really how it happened, so if that bothers me, I should take it up with history, not the filmmakers. Hell, the film actually creates a fairly satisfying ending despite a frustrating result. At this point, the story is complete. Our characters have grown from their experiences and their tasks have been completed over 2+ hours of screen time. It was over! Roll the credits!
I apologize if this comes off as a spoiler but I HAVE to discuss this. After Josh Lucas’s character spends the entire film actively hating Bale’s character, he pulls a dirty trick in the final race at the detriment to Bale. That part is seemingly a true event. But then the film has the audacity to kill Bale in the next scene! Why?! The story is over! You are already asking the audience to be the bigger person by taking a moral victory instead of an actual victory, which is difficult enough but HOW DARE YOU tack on his tragic death to a story that did not need it?! I left the theater IRATE!
Killing Bale serves zero purpose to the story. He may have actually died that way, but in the context of this story, it provides no sense of closure or growth. All we get is just two meaningless scenes of Matt Damon crying, possibly to make his case for an Oscar more compelling (?), which wasn’t even necessary. You couldn’t even throw in a quick scene where Josh Lucas’s character gets what he has coming to him? Nope! He just gets away with it and our likable protagonist dies in a fiery explosion right in front of his son, immediately after getting what he earned stolen right out from under him.
I hold Mangold, who wrote and directed the film, responsible for this. He is a terrific filmmaker and he made a terrific film, but that ending was the equivalent to a football player having a breakaway to the endzone then dropping the ball before he crosses the line. It simply did not need to be this way. Simply cut the last 15 minutes from the film and you have yourself a real winner. But those closing moments are so poisonous to the film as a whole that it ultimately ruins the experience, and this bitter taste in my mouth will forever be the feeling I associate with the film.
I ultimately will give “Ford v Ferrari” an 8.0 out of 10. Most of the film is great and that much shouldn’t be overlooked.
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, John Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Caitriona Balfe
Directed by: James Mangold
Runtime: 2 Hours and 23 Minutes