Some movie genres are timeless. War movies, for example. Teen comedies. Rom-coms. And, more and more, animated adventure stories.
But it would have seemed that the time for traditional male-bonding flicks had passed. You know, the kind that feature John Wayne/Clint Eastwood types sauntering across the big screen, exuding more testosterone than a rugby scrum. Even Eastwood, in recent years, has toned down his macho stance.
It appears, though, that the genre lives on, because we have “Ford v Ferrari” scoring big at the box office, racking up more than $30 million in its opening weekend.
Though it boasts an ample amount of dramatic, shall we say, adjustments – “Ford v Ferrari” explores the mid-1960s battle between the Ford Motor Company and the Italian car company, owned by Enzo Ferrari, for the hearts and minds of a new generation of car owners.
That generation, the first post-war set of potential car owners with ready money, wasn’t interested in the kind of family sedans favored by older drivers. At least that was the theory put forth by Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) to Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts).
Iacocca’s remedy: Make Ford cool again by winning the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, something that Ferrari had for the past several years virtually monopolized. This decision (which came after Ferrari laughed off a Ford financial offer) led Iacocca to Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon), the former driver and now car builder who’d won (with teammate Roy Salvadori) the 1959 Le Mans – beating Ferrari in the process.
But, of course, there would be problems. Shelby was a noted maverick, as was his choice of chief driver, Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale). And mavericks never play well with suits, exemplified – again, if more than a bit inventively – by both Ford II and by his right-hand man Leo Beebe (played by Josh Lucas).
That tension is what director James Mangold, best known for having helmed 2005’s “Walk the Line,” rides throughout “Ford v Ferrari.” So we have scenes of Shelby fast-talking his way into Ford II’s favor, convincing not-a-company-man Miles to go along, having to replace Miles at Beebe’s insistence, suffering failure, having to again convince Ford II that his plan was sound, then again approaching the even-more-recalcitrant Miles … and all of this before they’d faced Ferrari in the race that meant the most.
Damon and Bale serve their characters well, Damon’s offbeat good looks and natural screen charisma allowing him to capture a believable version of Shelby, and Bale moving seamlessly between hard-headed driver and sensitive husband and father (his wife Mollie notably played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, his son Peter by Noah Jupe).
Yet for all the racing excitement that “Ford v Ferrari” offers, I was most impressed by two different kinds of scenes: one a coming-of-the-minds meeting between Miles and his wife in their family sedan, the other an obviously invented scene between Shelby and Ford II in which the company magnate is forced to face his own personal limitations.
A bit less testosterone always tends to soothe the soul.
Note: For a good idea of what made Shelby such a racing icon, check out this YouTube version of the 1963 song "Hey Little Cobra" by The Rip Chords.