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Toronto Film Festival 2019: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ movie review

TORONTO- I think I preferred this movie when it was called “Speed Racer” and directed by the Wachowskis. At least there were psychedelic colors to spice things up.

Even if you’re Christian Bale, there’s only so much acting you can do from behind the wheel as your racing vehicle rounds a hairpin turn for the umpteenth time. And “Logan” director James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari,” clocking in at a ponderous two and a half hours, spends an awful lot of time on those turns.

Car lovers, though, will likely find this piece of Americana a real treat. In the mid-1960s, the Ford Motor Company got the notion that it was going to build a race car to beat the undisputed champion, Ferrari. It enlisted charismatic car designer and racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who in turn brought on prickly speed demon Ken Miles (Bale), a driver and engineer who’d served in the British Army before coming to America to race.

Mangold’s film has the polished sheen (and dearth of female characters) of a “Mad Men” episode; it’s at its best when Damon’s innovative Shelby is going toe to toe with Ford execs or trying to keep Miles from shooting his mouth off in front of them. Damon and Bale have so much fun together onscreen — at one point their characters kinda-amicably fistfight in a park, scattering Miles’ groceries everywhere — it’s a pity the driving keeps them apart for most of the movie.

In the film’s best sequence, Shelby takes a harrumphing Henry Ford Jr. (the inimitable Tracy Letts) — who seems like he must have been a real bastard to work for — out in the latest model. He’s white as a sheet when they hit a turn, and sobbing openly by the time Shelby hits the brakes. Jon Bernthal is here as an unrecognizably young Lee Iacocca, Ford’s right-hand man, and Josh Lucas is likably slimy as Leo Beebe, a company man who takes an instant dislike to Miles’ independent spirit.

Catriona Balfe, as Miles’ wife Mollie, spends much of the film worrying beside the radio or the telephone, but she manages to wrest some personality out of her brief scenes — especially one in which she exacts promises from her husband by driving their station wagon like she’s on a racetrack.

But this is all leading up to the races, the very, very long races in which Miles first tests a prototype of Ford’s GT40 in the 24 Hours of Daytona, then the real deal in the storied 24 Hours of Le Mans in Paris — while Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and his cohorts look on with increasing trepidation. Damon enlivens the proceedings every time there’s a pit stop — Shelby’s not above bending the rules or pranking the Italians — but ultimately I think Mangold could have benefitted from losing a lap or five in the editing room. Then again, 24 Hours of Le Mans is still so popular — to say nothing of our own enduring NASCAR mania — that I imagine many viewers will be more than happy to be whisked away by “Ford v Ferrari.”

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