It is I, your trusty 4DX film reviewer at Nightmarish Conjurings, and I am here to say that FORD V FERRARI is not only a wonderful film, but it is an excellent choice of a film to be viewed in the 4DX format.
FORD V FERRARI is the story of Carroll Shelby, the famous car maker and race driver, and his lesser-known partner in genius, Ken Miles, automotive savant, preternaturally gifted race car driver, designer, and builder of race cars in their quest on behalf of the Ford Motor Company to end the reign of Enzo Ferrari as the preeminent manufacturer of race cars and Ferrari’s domination of that prestige car market and the European Grand Prix.
FORD V FERRARI was directed by James Mangold and stars Christian Bale as Ken Miles and Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby. It is a film that is about chasing the dream of perfection that elevates craft into art and dealing with corporate interference or the soul-deadening demands of society and commerce on the artist.
While watching the movie, it was very difficult to not see parallels between art and commerce in the story even though the movie is ostensibly about racing and cars. Miles and Shelby do what they do because they are compelled by their love of the sport and the automobile and because they can do nothing else because their drive is so strong. It’s about the purity and excellence of the cars and the race for them. This is juxtaposed with the corporate marketing and bureaucracy of the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford, the second, is caught up in the success and reputation of his family’s business and has lost touch with that desire for excellence. Of the marketing executives, only Lee Iacocca, played by Jon Bernthal, has the vision to see what has gone wrong and that’s where the story really begins.
Iacocca suggests that sluggish sales for the company are due to that lack of pride in the cars themselves and that Enzo Ferrari’s cars and reputation are responsible for the lack of interest in what Ford produces. Iacocca is also the son of Italian immigrants and an engineer who understands where Ferrari is coming from. When Ford attempts to buy Ferrari, Ferrari pulls an end run and, especially after he learns that his beloved race program would no longer be his to control, he gives Ford the middle finger by taking an offer from Fiat to purchase part of Ferrari instead. As an Italian, he makes the insult personal to Ford by impugning his reputation as the son of Henry Ford in the message he gives Iacocca and the other executive to give to Ford as to why he went with Fiat instead. This inflames Ford’s pride and he vows to end Ferrari’s run of king of the apex of Grand Prix racing in Europe, the 24-hour endurance test of Le Mans in France.
While Shelby is promised full control, it is snatched back away from him by Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas – a scheming marketing executive who knows how to manipulate Henry Ford. Thus begins the fight between the art of making race cars and winning races against the demands of the marketing department of Ford Motor Company.
One of the themes of the film is that there is an indefinable and preternatural quality that the best of the best have that is not to be tampered with and cannot be replicated. It is that elusive quality that graces a person or a creation with greatness. It is hard-won and frequently comes with the price of a lack of social graces or patience with bureaucracy. It comes with the purity of motive and the focus required on putting all of your will and your very soul into that drive for excellence, in that refusal to compromise for the sake of getting along.
“I put my soul into every bar, into every verse, into every rhyme.”
It is the alchemy of creation and of art. It comes at the highest cost, alienation from the rest of humanity for whom okay is good enough. To never be believed or understood, except for a select few who are like you, until you are proven right by success and sometimes not even then. To risk injury or death for that excellence, because that is the price.
James Mangold is a superb director and has done his work and then some with FORD V FERRARI. The film itself is weightless in the sense that it seems to never be working that hard but it is firing on all cylinders. Christian Bale is one of our very best and has the sardonic wit and obsessive essence of Ken Miles down perfectly. His Miles seems different from any other role that he has played. There are many actors who are lauded for essentially playing themselves over and over and while that is actually good work, it is harder to create a vision of a person who did live and make that vision real. Bale has done this with the role of Ken Miles. He made him angry, confused by life, and otherworldly in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen genius portrayed before. In fact, I think that the performances in the film are uniformly terrific and without flaw because of the standards of Mangold and Bale. Matt Damon has a bit of the creative demon in him that you can see that is at odds with the politician that Shelby also was. Josh Lucas has a depth as a schemer that isn’t the stereotype of the corporate villain and Mangold has a shot in the film that features his cold blue eyes that speaks volumes about exactly how controlling and vindictive Beebe really was (and he was, he was actually the agent of the outcome of the Le Mans debacle). I’m going to take the time that I haven’t before to thank the efforts of Phedon Papamichael, the film’s cinematographer, especially on this score. You haven’t seen blue eyes like that since Paul Newman. Caitríona Balfe has the usually thankless role of the wife, but makes a meal of it with her determination and unwillingness to simply be passive. She is not the cartoon of the empowered woman, but a real breathing woman who will not put up with Miles bullshit.
Mangold had the virtuosity to cast the playwright and actor Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II and is rewarded with a compelling portrait of the son of a “great man” of industry who has a moment where he feels the exhilaration of creation for himself. It’s quite beautiful to witness. And thank goodness that someone finally saw the charisma and goodness within Jon Bernthal to play someone other than an antihero. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bernthal’s work as a brutal man, but it was great to see him play something different for a change and he infuses that normal man, who eventually becomes the President of Ford Motors, Lee Iacocca, with charm and not an ounce of the torment that you normally see when Bernthal is on screen. He can do more, everyone, take note. Remo Girone is a perfect match to the role of Enzo Ferrari, a secretive and brilliant creator as well, who nonetheless respects greatness in others with old-world elegance and arrogance. Even the smaller roles are filled with interesting actors who have complicated characterizations, so there is much to experience and enjoy throughout the entire film.
The movie is also brilliant because even though I was pretty sure that I knew where the story was going, it still managed to surprise me regularly. I was fully and emotionally involved with the story and the characters. There was one particular moment that had me exclaiming HOLY SHIT out of shock and there is a deep vein of that Miles variety of sardonic humor that runs through the entire film. As for the 4DX, it’s a real plus to the work. The calibration of the effects was again perfect and the first moment where a character really puts the pedal down and takes off in one of those magnificent cars, I felt an exhilaration that I could not contain. I felt joy. Also, that joy was readily apparent to the guy they had at the screening watching the audience for piracy. I could see and feel the big grin on his face from the reaction to the scene and the 4DX effects. Yes, it’s that much of an enhancement to the film. 4DX effects were thrilling in Terminator: Dark Fate and they added just as much to FORD V FERRARI. You want to feel the wind rushing through your hair as the characters break records at Le Mans and with 4DX, you can. Don’t get me wrong, I can definitely become immersed in a film and feel that through my imagination, but feeling it in real life is really awesome too. Did I cry? Yes, faithful reader, I did.
FORD V FERRARI is an extremely entertaining and intelligent film made with the same type of drive for excellence that possessed the creators Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby and Enzo Ferrari and gives the viewer a window into the creative mind and spirit with 4DX effects that are thrilling and flat out fun to experience. If you were looking for another film to try out 4DX, this is a prime candidate. It’s not a gimmick, much like the efforts of William Castle, it is pure showmanship and thoughtful exploration of the eternal fight between art and commerce. FORD V FERRARI will be released in theaters November 15, 2019.