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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Ford v Ferrari

“Making Waves” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Sports are one of those things that are a natural fit for drama. The essence of drama is conflict, and with the competitive nature of sports, there is an automatic conflict. It’s all in the title: “Ford v Ferrari.” Though that same title could also be used for a courtroom drama—another thing that lends itself very well to the genre with its pre-set conflict.

There are no courts in “Ford v Ferrari,” though there is some contractual negotiation between future legendary American CEO Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), representing Ford, and already legendary Italian race car company founder Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) —no points for guessing which side he represents. Given the title of the movie, it’s no spoiler to report that the negotiations do not go well. The sticking point: If Ferrari agrees to the buyout by Ford, there is potential that their ability to race in the Le Mans in France—a race they’ve won four years in a row—could be taken away. After insulting Ford’s factory, executives, and president Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), Ferrari storms out of the meeting.

Henry Ford II, affectionately called “the deuce,” demands a full report on exactly what Ferrari said. While he is okay with his factory being called “ugly” and personally being called “fat” and “pig-headed,” the one insult that sticks in his craw is that he is “the second” to his grandfather Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, and cannot escape his shadow. That’s what riles him up enough to give race car expert Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) carte blanche (“French for bullsh*t,” as Shelby points out in one scene) to build a race car that will beat Ferrari at Le Mans.

To do this, he convinces expert race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to help him out and test the cars as they progress in development. Miles is wiry and temperamental. He has a reputation for being difficult to work with, but his numerous racing wins speak for themselves. Miles is the only character whose family is seen on screen: wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and adolescent son Peter (Noah Jupe). There are several heartfelt and tender scenes between Miles and his wife and son, as well as one not so tender one where Mollie drives recklessly to get some answers from Miles, showing that even race car drivers have their limits on what they can take.

While the title of the movie is “Ford v Ferrari,” the story is mostly about the friendship between Shelby and Miles, two men who have a mutual adoration and respect for each other, even when they’re wrestling on the side of the street. While they may tussle, they are not out to draw blood. Notice the moment in that scene where a jar is picked up as a potential weapon and then immediately put down in favor of a loaf of bread.

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The true antagonist of “Ford v Ferrari” is not Ferrari, but rather a Ford executive named Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Lucas does what he can with the role to try to not turn Beebe into a snarling, scenery chewing, mustache twirling (if he had a mustache) type villain, but there is only so much that can be done with a part so thinly written. This movie clocks in at two and a half hours, but I can’t help but feel that it should have been a bit longer—maybe ten to fifteen minutes or so—just to flesh out this character and provide some insight into the inner workings at the executive level of Ford. At one point, Shelby is notified that he reports directly to Henry Ford II himself. A few scenes later, we find out that this is no longer the case and he has to report to Beebe. This happens out of nowhere. How did Beebe maneuver this power grab? Beebe strikes me as an interesting, Machiavellian style character, if only the movie would spend the time with him. What we get instead is a man driven by spite due to one instance that happens at a car show between himself and Shelby. He spends the rest of the movie trying to undermine Shelby for reasons that come across as petty and immature, more suited to an incidental character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” than to a major motion picture.

Last but not least, “Ford v Ferrari” is a racing movie. If there is a subgenre of racing movies called “race porn”, then this might fit into it. Aside from the usual shots we get of cars skidding, turning, and going real fast, we get several quick insert shots of gears being shifted and pedals being pressed. These are usually intercut between close up shots of drivers’ faces looking intense and feeling the adrenaline rush. It’s effective movie making on the part of director James Mangold. He puts us in the driver’s seat with the gear shift and the pedals, and we feel it too. Buy it.

More New Releases: “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound,” an exploration of the history, artistry, and emotional power of cinema sound, as revealed by legendary sound designers and visionary directors, via interviews, clips from movies, and a look at their actual process of creation and discovery.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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