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New films: Ford v Ferrari, Charlie’s Angels, The Good Liar

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in a production still from Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari
Directed by James Mangold

Perhaps the most convincing thing I can report about watching “Ford vs. Ferrari” was a brief encounter after the screening. An older woman walked slowly out of theater and said (paraphrased from memory) “I can tell you, that’s really how it happened.” I was expecting her to then say that she had watched the events unfold in the 1960’s, like so many others, from a distance on television. But she went on to say that she knew Peter Miles, the son of driver Ken Miles, and had met Ken during the period depicted in the film. I had just enjoyed watching the film myself, but this was one of those rare eye-witness endorsements of the time and events.

“Ford v Ferrari” depicts the feud between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari that caused the development of the Ford GT40 and the associated racing program, and the desire to beat Ferrari at their own game, specifically at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, where cars and drivers not only have to be fast but durable. Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby, automaker and prior Le Mans winner, who was employed by Ford to manage production and the race team (up to a point), and Christian Bale plays race car designer/engineer and driver Ken Miles.

Only a week after the (surprisingly good) computer generated action sequences of “Midway,” it was a delight to get back to some good old real cars being driven on real tracks by real people (even if not the people we see on screen). There’s a substantial feel to the action sequences here, which are the bulk of the film, which is hard to achieve with models and greenscreens. This is a film that’s accurate enough to satisfy the gearheads, as well as the unexpected eye witnesses, with enough human interest and drama to similarly satisfy those who are simply fans of the actors, or those who have been dragged along by the gearheads.

Much of that drama is delivered by the strong supporting cast, with Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”) as Ken’s wife Mollie Miles, and Noah Jupe (“A Quiet Place”) as their son Peter. Much in-fighting among the Ford executives is primarily personified by Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II, Josh Lucas in what is essentially the villain role as senior Ford VP Leo Beebe, and John Bernthal as Lee Iacocca. Whether or not those executive characterizations are accurate seems up for debate. You can easily find online articles challenging the conniving version of Beebe depicted here. And Iacocca’s story seems strangely underplayed even for the period in question, with him suggested to have been a relatively unsuccessful marketing guy when he’s largely credited (in real life) with the introduction of the Ford Mustang, which is seen in the film, and the film does little to suggest that Iacocca would go on to head both Ford and Chrysler. But, if nothing else, the secondary characters as written do make for a fairly successful screenplay, even if they lack veracity and depth – but there’s no mistaking that this is still the Damon and Bale show.

Damon started acting as a young adult, whereas Bale was a child actor, with his most notable early, leading performance alongside such talented character actors as John Malkovich in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun.” There’s a scene in “Ford v Ferrari” in which father and son Ken and Peter Miles, played by Bale and Jupe (at about the same age as Bale in “Empire of the Sun”), sit on the track at the end of a practice session which causes Bale’s career to appear to have come full circle, despite presumably still having Le Mans-like endurance left to go. Meanwile, Jupe will next be seen in Shia LaBeouf’s autobiographical “Honey Boy” as the young LaBeouf surrogate, playing a child actor with a domineering father, making his 2019 a treasure trove of how-to and how-not-to advice from older co-stars.

“Ford v Ferrari” is a solid racing movie for car and racing enthusiasts, with sufficient drama and tension to satisfy many other viewers. Some of the smaller details are a little suspect, but there’s enough here from the two co-stars to light up the screen and perhaps keep them sparring through awards season.

Moviebriefs

The latest reboot of “Charlie’s Angels” is light and fun but feels like something else. The premise is that the agency has expanded across the world and scaled up to the point that there are Bosleys (now a rank, not a name) and Angels around every corner. Which makes it seem more like “Queenswomen” or something else new – it simply doesn’t scale well in a manner that preserves its origins. The Townsend Agency was small and of somewhat limited scope, now it’s like an alternative to “Mission Impossible” – it’s similar to the transition that took the “Fast & Furious” franchise from films about street racing, with some side hustling, to films where fleets of custom Range Rovers can be airlifted anywhere in the world in less time than it takes a normal person to clear TSA. It doesn’t make it inherently bad, it just feels more like a new concept using old brand equity.

Watching “The Good Liar” is a pretty easy choice to make. It co-stars Ian Mckellen and Helen Mirren as an elderly couple who meet via an online dating app, but who have far more going on under the surface of their lives – but the opportunity to watch the two of them onscreen together, regardless of content, is likely enough for many in the audience. Mckellen’s Roy is a career conman, with multiple cons running at a time. For him, Mirren’s Betty is an apparently easy mark – she’s a wealthy widow who can, by her own admission, buy a new car for cash. Russell Tovey has a supporting role as Betty’s live-in grandson and possible roadblock to Roy’s scheme. But there’s more going on here than is obvious at first sight and Roy may finally have bitten off more than he can chew, as old scores are recounted and settled. It’s a neat film and a great opportunity to watch two great actors, but it slowly becomes a layer cake with perhaps too many layers and a somewhat uneven screenplay.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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