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
Self publishing a novel is always a tricky thing. Normally looking at a novel for review I usually select a pre publish gallows copy so there are no pre-ordained expectations. “The Martian” [Andy Weir/Broadway/385pgs] is an interesting example in this regard. I heard about it in a slingshot fashion. The movie has already been shot but I barely looked at the trailers. I had a perception of Matt Damon playing stranded astronaut Watney and Jessica Chastain playing Commander Lewis but beyond that and the fact that Ridley Scott was directing, it was pretty unsaturated in my mind. The thing is what kind of book would pull people in like this. Plus add the fact that both of the lead actors had just been in “Interstellar”, a fairly complex outing, and yet they jumped back into another parallel space arena. The two stories couldn’t be more different but, in a way, they are the same as well. The main character is searching for his identity integrating into an unknown arena. The difference becomes one between the two pictures of philosophy versus practicality. Each one denotes the idea of survival. But the way this book is built will be interesting to see in translation. A similar study would be to look at the film “127 Hours” which tells of a man surviving on a hiking trip. It was modestly budgeted and used some reflective video elements to buffer the time. The interesting device here is that for the first quarter of the book and much of it throughout, the story is told in diary journal entry. For a good part of the novel, Watney is with nobody and his communication with NASA is limited to none. Most of the time, voice over can be attributed to lazy filmmaking but here it is key to the narrative. The trick will be pacing and balance. “127 Hours” was a different exercise. “The Martian” is likely a 150 million dollar movie with a good amount of special effects (though not as much as some), a couple movie stars and the director of “Blade Runner”. Tricky. (As Watney would say) You bet.
But I digress. And that is the great thing Watley does in this novel. He makes fun of himself. His quips in his journals, to himself, to NASA and his crewmates. These quips are great and full of witty and non politically correct humor at times. This is what makes this novel the crossover sensation that it has become. Humor. That is what this novel has that many science fiction novels don’t get. Humor. At many points, I found myself laughing myself because some of his thoughts are just so dead on…and yet they are placed in while describing a distinct technical process. It makes for a quick read and releases the pressure valve. Watmey jokes about disco and countless other elements. These points are great because they are character related and ground the character so that even if he is on a planet by himself, you can identify with him. There doesn’t need to be some large scale action sequence. This is a much simpler story than say “Red Planet” and “Mission To Mars” and infinitely and likely more effective. It is more similar in tone at times with the novel of “Contact” which oddly enough, with its original story, mirrored “Interstellar” in a way. And like that movie (“Contact”) which I read in similar sequence to this novel, the resulting movie, no matter how good or bad it is, will effect the engaging experience the book was. From simple beginnings as Weir started with this book, comes an epic story which works in its ability to explain the most complex of current equations: traveling and surviving an another planet within our reach, in a grounded, intriguing, funny and practical way.