Telluride Film Review: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ Packs Audible Tension and Soulful Heart

2019 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: The adrenaline of speed and sound are the foundation of exhilaration in James Mangold‘s sensational “Ford v Ferrari” from 20th Century Fox. Classically made in the vein of pure crowd-pleasing excitement as audiences have been accustomed for decades, Mangold constructs a story entrenched within a sport that makes the viewer care genuinely for, even if they usually do not. This is all heightened most notably by the indelible performance by Christian Bale, who turns in one of his most exceptional performances yet. Surrounded by an all-star cast, many of whom show their chops at tender, dramatic moments, the film from head to toe will have your ears perked up, your pulse in overload, and your rear ends at the very edge of their seats.

“Ford v Ferrari” tells the story of:

American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Bale), who battle corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons, in order to build a revolutionary race car for the Ford Motor Company and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

In the Werner Herzog Theater, James Mangold introduced the film, speaking sincerely about his first venture to Colorado in 2005 when “Walk the Line” screened for the first time. Speaking of a film professor who he misses dearly, the proud captain of this ship was eager to unleash it onto the cinematic world. The overall view, at least within the compounds of the 650 person venue, is they gobbled it up.

Ford v Ferrari

Bale emulates parts of his Oscar-winning role from David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” where he played troubled boxer Dicky Ward. His commitment to his craft has never been questioned, as we’ve all continuously witnessed the Welsh actor take on role after role, with a staggering amount of detail to not only the character’s motivations but their physical demeanor. Bale tackles the frustration rooted within a man whose passion is so profound and grand, his expectations of other’s respect for it is a hindrance.

The cast ensemble pops. Admittedly, Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby is the weakest written character. Struggling to find an emotional chord, the story chooses not to offer any personal insight into a man who in real life was married seven times, and struggled with addiction. They keep it mostly surface until Damon is offered a moment to pack a wallop in the film’s final moments, showing the world he’s still got it and we should allow him to show it more often.

Tracy Letts demands attention in his few scenes as Henry Ford II while Jon Bernthal is the most UN-Jon Bernthal witnessed in quite some time. No uncontrollable anger or loud outbursts here as he’s slithers subtly as Lee Iacocca. As Ken’s wife Mollie, Caitriona Balfe makes the most of her limited screentime but still manages remain acutely memorable.

Most surprising to see is is the young Noah Jupe as Ken’s son Peter, who takes control of the reigns with such confidence. Showing memorable stints in films like “Wonder” and “A Quiet Place,” Jupe is beginning to stretch his legs, and our cinematic future is starting to look a whole lot brighter because of it.

Director James Mangold has never manifested a more assured decisiveness in filmmaking, as he weaves in and out of action and drama with effortless skill. He manages to earn an ambitious 152 minute run time. The script crackles at times, while shamelessly leaning into the more conventional tropes of action-biopics we’ve seen before. Mangold backs it up with strength, and a surprisingly tender touch sprinkled throughout.

A film of this magnitude is nothing without its technical team, and Mangold assembles some heavy hitters. Marco Beltrami‘s score adds to the impeccable racing scenes while never shying away from drawing a tear or two. It would likely be one of the great travesties in awards history if Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker are not among the five nominees for film editing. Just calling it all a “thrill-ride” is too simplistic to describe what they achieve. Phedon Papamichael‘s camera work is sensationally fierce while surely there are plenty of visual effects that are likely invisible to the naked eye that deserve just as much credit.

What stands above it all is every person that is involved with the sound design. David Giammarco (two-time nominee for “3:10 to Yuma” and “Moneyball”) and Paul Massey (recent winner for “Bohemian Rhapsody”) take charge of the eardrums, holding them to account for every vroom, patch, and detail that you can hear on a racetrack.  Eric A. Norris‘ sound effects editing is just as brilliant, and along with any of other team members that AMPAS qualifies and the studio submits, it’ll be hard to find contenders to overtake them from other movies this year (at least at this juncture).

Ford v Ferrari” is a cleverly crafted machine.  Exhilarating in its construction, suspenseful in its execution, and captivating in its performances. Big contender for SAG Ensemble if it holds up and makes as much money as one would suspect. It’s a splendid gunshot to the start of awards season.

“Ford v Ferrari” is distributed by 20th Century Fox and opens in theaters on Nov. 15.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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