Although he isn’t necessarily a household name, James Mangold’s extensive résumé speaks for itself. Works like Walk the Line and Girl, Interrupted have captured Oscar statues, while efforts like Logan and 3:10 to Yuma have enjoyed universal acclaim. And smack-dab in the middle of awards season, Mangold drops another heavyweight contender for audiences to enjoy with this weekend’s arrival of Ford v Ferrari, a high-octane drama that speeds to the Best Picture race on the wave of audience and critical support.
A dicey business dealing between the pair of high-profile automakers, Ford and Ferrari, leads to a battle for racing immortality in the 1960s. Ferrari has dominated the renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans race for years, but Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) will stop at nothing to defeat them. Therefore, he enlists the aid of car designer and former driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American to ever win the race himself, who believes that the hot-headed and stubborn driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), is the only man capable of beating Ferrari.
Ford v Ferrari proves to be one of 2019’s most appealing cinematic experiences for a multitude of reasons. For starters, the script is a magnificent blend of hearty comedy and compelling drama that bounce off one another all while developing wildly interesting and likable characters. Matt Damon and Christian Bale are gifted a brilliant and timely story, but it’s their attention to detail and dedication to craft that help take Ford v Ferrari to a whole other level. While it’s a little surprising that more hype hasn’t surrounded these performances as we approach the stretch run of awards season, I wouldn’t be shocked if at least one of them sneaks away with a nomination. Bale may be facing some stiffer competition with both of The Irishman’s supporting actors and a slew of other high-profile supporting turns to measure up against, but he also gives the slightly stronger performance. Damon is fine in his own right, but the character of Ken is so fascinating and Bale knows exactly how to capitalize on good writing. And not only does the script develop the framework for strong central characters, it also touches on some underdog and anti-establishment themes that naturally resonate with today’s moviegoers. In some instances, Ford v Ferrari regrettably re-gifts cookie-cutter moments of familiarity that soften an otherwise outstandingly executed film. Yet, James Mangold and company rise above these schematic similarities to Oscar contenders of the past by delivering what’s arguably Mangold’s best effort to date and one that should make a serious splash during this year’s awards season.