From when it was initially announced with Michael Mann at the helm, the idea of a movie which traced Ford’s intention to beat Ferrari at Le Mans seems like a film that might have trouble relating. But the universality of underdog stories plus such enhanced technology both to capture and digital integrate elements of the racing are better than they have ever been. This is why when director James Mangold finally got to make the movie he understood that the core was the push and pull between Carol Shelby and Ken Miles and how much they kinetically needed one another. While it takes a couple scenes to get what the dynamic is going to be, it is truly Christian Bale’s brilliance that comes together. Unlike certain more sleazy or perhaps characters on a moral precipice, here he plays a character which is utterly charming with a chip on his shoulder and yet wants to be both a provider against his bigger ego. It is a hard part to play but the reason it works is that around the second third of the movie you get to just watch him as things seem to de-materialize. The backgrounds especially of what is supposed to be LAX are stark even if they weren’t possibly shot there. One scene shot at dusk is beautiful, simple and almost shot with natural light yet Bale’s acting seems relaxed. Very difficult to pull off and yet it seems very smooth.
Matt Damon has to do more of the heavily lifting and despite his utter competency as an actor he can never quite disappear. His balance of the politics and creativity within Shelby is the fuel that keeps the plot moving. It is the less showy part but nonetheless crucial. Not since, to a lesser point actually, “Days Of Thunder” has there been both the nature of life in design and on the track that feels so organic. But neither Bale or Damon try to overwhelm a scene like Cruise would. Even the story beats which obviously reflect real life have a relativity to them so you can see one action reflect another. While characters like Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II have their parts to play, others have definite possibility while others grind a little bit. The actor who plays Lea Iaccoca has the efficiency of knowing the balance and plays the part with elegance while Josh Lucas in his first big film in years adequately hits his notes but could have instilled more bravado. There seems no heart to his decisions. Even someone trying to save their own job is not so one-dimensional. But this is a small discrepancy in what it is an extremely effective film.
The racing scenes, and even more specifically, the training scenes where Bale’s Ken is helping Damon’s Shelby make the car better just makes the film sing. But that pacing is essential especially when it gets to Le Mans. This is something you can’t do in say “Speed Racer”. Bale’s character, at one point when he is racing at Le Mans, has an moment of enlightenment but it is wrapped in a sense of both ego and humility at the same time. That is stakes and heart on the line. Ultimately that is where cinema connects. And “Ford Vs. Ferrari” has it.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of the X-Men mythology has placed it with some ideals of archetypes but, with some of the actors involved, the texture of nuance is always an interesting progression in what is embraced and what is shown below the surface. This reviewer did interviews for “X-Men: The Last Stand” back in the last iteration of the cast before “First Class” but also visited the set of “X-Men: Apocalypse”. With “The Last Stand”, the approach involved the aspect of Jean Grey as well. However unlike Famke Jannsen’s iteration, there seems a times a lack of stakes or perhaps disconnection from Sophie Turner’s inhabiting of the character, much in the way of Captain Marvel in “Endgame”: she is so indestructible that the balance of her take down is somewhat like ants trying to destroy gods . That said, this installment is the most engrossing since “First Class”. The inclusion of Jennifer Lawrence works simply because of the structure of what it is setting up and that allows in true form the most connective tissue that motivates all the characters. Whether it be Tye Sheridan’s Psyclops or in a more pronounced fashion Beast played by Nicolas Hoult, “Dark Phoenix” has some more true acting from these performers because the entire proceeding is not overtaken by visual effects unlike some of the iterations before. It comes off more practical.
Also the characters, even more so, seem to engage in their baser desires at times which makes them more fully realized. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto seems both more conflicted but also at times more brutal than before. When he emerges in terms of his focus, it is interesting because it you can see him fighting against his own instincts (even though his character comes off more as supporting). James McAvoy as Professor X also has a more dynamic approach because his character is not the all wise. He makes mistakes and ego plays a part in this outing. These are superheroes but they are flawed and that is what this picture is allowing (perhaps in a darker way than perhaps Disney would approach it at a different time). Even Nightcrawler becomes brutal in a way not seen since “X2” when he was on the opposite viewpoint. That said, the story timing conversely is, at times, erratic. However this does not take away from the emotional notes. What scattershots the beats is Jessica Chastain and her minions. Chastain is on point in terms of her performance but there is not a reflective basis of her motivation. Her character’s origins are left to the ether which works to a point but not in the final revelation. “Dark Phoenix” in a great way handles many emotional beats in a way far superior to some of its predecessors thanks in part to director Simon Kinsberg who understands this mythology and the characters through and through. But endings, especially of an era, never are clean. They are messy. “Endgame” tried to do everything and reflected emotional but many plot holes still remained. “Dark Phoenix” writes a different story than the one previous to “The Last Stand” but in doing some creates something more contextual even if the final shot reflects a vague contentment.
By Tim Wassberg