It’s the kind of movie only Hollywood can make – a big studio film with big stars and a juicy length at 2+ hours. I figured it would land with an A, but I didn’t anticipate an A+. This is a stealthy champ that really has a decent shot at doing a lot better than pundits are estimating, I figure, as Jenelle Reilly tweeted yesterday. It isn’t that Cinemascore “matters” that much. Harriet is another film with an A+. But it tells you a thing or two about a movie’s relationship with a real audience, or rather, its ideal audience. That means – people the marketing team specifically targeted to see the film opening night. Anyone heading out to see Ford v Ferrari is doing so either because they are interested in car racing or the marketing hit them the right way. Basically that means they’re “in the tank” for the film already. How well the score hits is generally how much it meets expectations vis a vis the film the marketing team is selling.
Well, Ford v Ferrari has had a beautifully subtle outreach in marketing and in Oscar campaigning. It was liked by almost everyone in Telluride but for whatever reason it, like other films before it that similarly flew under the radar (Argo, for instance) isn’t really one Oscar folks have been predicting as a defacto frontrunner.
Even now, most are wondering about its chances, from the superb supporting turn by Tracy Letts (you want to study acting? Just watch that performance) to the two leads – Matt Damon has never been better (although he’s always great) and Christian Bale does a complete reversal from Dick Cheney last year to play Ken Miles. The weirdest thing about this movie is that I wasn’t even particularly interested in car racing. Movies about car racing aren’t that exciting. What makes THIS film so good is that it is one of those movies that hits all of the key factors right on target – like the script by Jason Keller, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and the directing – James Mangold has made a lot of good movies but I personally think he’s hit a career high with this one, and the acting ensemble. It is, as they say, a good f*cking movie.
There are moments in this film that are hypnotic — most of them are between car and driver and open road. However, Mangold takes us into the hearts and minds of the characters. It’s a story about people who really love to race and build race cars who are tangled up in the corporate machine that doesn’t them do what they want to do. To that end, it is every reflective of the Hollywood machine itself. Too many suits. Too many red folders changing hands. Not enough trust in the people who know what they’re doing. “Trust me,” says Matt Damon’s character throughout — and only when they trust him and his chosen, non-conventional, anti-corporate driver do they soar.
This is a metaphor for producers, directors and the money machine that doubts their every move. Do people get that about the film? I don’t know. Probably not. It doesn’t matter because it is one of the few films made the old fashioned way. And while people might conclude what I mean by that is “films about white men” — that isn’t what I mean by that. Denzel Washington could be the lead and the end result would be the same. It’s a film that gives back more than it takes. It’s just entertaining. If you want to look more deeply, and if you scratch the surface and remember who is doing the telling here, you might find that metaphor about corporate control vs. creative genius.
What that means for the Oscar race in a really competitive wide open year? I don’t know. Do the pundits make the race? I don’t know. All I know is that when there is a movie everybody likes — pretty much — that’s one to watch out for.
We wait, we wait.