Perhaps newly-minted Disney employee and Fox Film vice chairman Emma Watts said it best herself: movies like the studio’s “Ford v. Ferrari” are “an endangered species.”
Lucky, then, that Disney inherited the film earlier this month when it acquired 21st Century Fox, and Watts along with it to continue in her role as production president and one of the top creative forces. Watts presented the film to global movie theater owners on Wednesday at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. The film, a muscular look at the engineer and driver who overcame the odds to build a race car for Ford that challenged Ferrari’s dominance, could be an Oscar contender for Fox and its new parent company, Walt Disney Studios.
‘Ford v. Ferrari’ has always been a mystery with megawatt talent — Christian Bale and Matt Damon star, James Mangold (“Logan”) directs the true story. The Ford car was designed to win the 1966 Le Mans race in France, a legendarily grueling competition that lasts 24 hours and leaves many an automobile in the junkyard.
Watts called the film an example of what happens “when we dream the impossible, and then simply made it happen.”
Damon plays engineer Carroll Shelby, and Bale portrays the renegade driver Ken Miles. A first-look trailer shown to the exhibitors seemed to check multiple boxes: Mangold offered up sleek and honeycomb-tinted shots, heavy on car porn and punchy dialogue. Bale looks brooding and slick with engine grease. Damon does not go for vanity here as a down-on-his-luck engineer shacking up in an Airstream trailer. Tracy Letts, who plays Ford II, got all the laughs as a bone-dry American entrepreneur desperate to best his auto rival.
The racing sequences are exhilarating, made elegant by the vintage car designs and exciting by how often they fall to pieces, catch fire or simply disintegrate in pursuit of glory.
“In this time of change and new horizons, this is a fitting film to leave you with,” Watts said in closing. The film opens Nov. 15., putting it squarely in awards season.