It feels rather inexplicable that a journeyman director like James Mangold now has the power to do whatever he wants. But after delivering 20th Century Fox a film like Logan, perfectly timed to stand atop a pedestal of personality in a sea of superhero movies that have none, his next film, Ford v Ferrari (it’s been rather idiotically renamed Le Mans ’66 in the UK), makes a lot of sense. It’s exactly the kind of cool, standalone big-tent star vehicle that directors get given when the studios feel they deserve a “thank you”.
And if Mangold can bring some of the same sweaty, sun-kissed grit to this as he did to Logan (judging by the trailer, he already has), it’ll be all the better for it. Chronicling the story of car tycoon Henry Ford II’s rivalry with Enzo Ferrari, Matt Damon and Christian Bale star as engineer Carroll Shelby and race-car driver Ken Miles, working for Ford to build the car that will beat Ferrari’s at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
Pundits are already lining up to call Ford v Ferrari an awards contender, given its autumn release date, and given that Mangold managed to be a hit with the Academy even for a film like Logan. But this is hopefully a betrayal of how downright fun this will be. When an awards contender pops up this early (particularly a period piece), it’s shorthand for a dull, stodgy, uninquisitive film that will likely interest the elderly Academy members and nobody else.
We’re only going off the trailer here, but this doesn’t look dull or stodgy. It looks like a supercharged, greasy racing movie that might be the most superficially pleasurable of the entire autumn. That it stars bonafide poster-fillers like Bale and Damon is just points in its favour. Their popularity makes it a wonder they’ve not been in a film together already, but it makes sense once one considers what kind of movie each is famous for. Damon’s most popular role is probably as Jason Bourne, but his type for at least the last ten years is much closer to the everyman dad-bod than grimacing action hero.
Bale, meanwhile, might be a great showman, but his showmanship comes from his more “technical” approach to being a star. He’s the sort of person who would inspire enthusiasm from mainstream movie-goers not for being an attractive matinee idol but for being the exact opposite. He’s lost a dangerous amount of weight for some roles, become ripped for others, and even become so overweight that he is required to learn techniques for dealing with a heart attack. He’s a more dangerous, much weirder actor than Damon – which is why this dynamic, if nothing else, makes this film so exciting. Seeing a daring actor opposite a reliably charming one playing a pair that fit those personas pretty closely will be a real pleasure.