IR Film Review: FORD V. FERRARI [20th Century Fox]

From when it was initially announced with Michael Mann at the helm, the idea of a movie which traced Ford’s intention to beat Ferrari at Le Mans seems like a film that might have trouble relating. But the universality of underdog stories plus such enhanced technology both to capture and digital integrate elements of the racing are better than they have ever been. This is why when director James Mangold finally got to make the movie he understood that the core was the push and pull between Carol Shelby and Ken Miles and how much they kinetically needed one another. While it takes a couple scenes to get what the dynamic is going to be, it is truly Christian Bale’s brilliance that comes together. Unlike certain more sleazy or perhaps characters on a moral precipice, here he plays a character which is utterly charming with a chip on his shoulder and yet wants to be both a provider against his bigger ego. It is a hard part to play but the reason it works is that around the second third of the movie you get to just watch him as things seem to de-materialize. The backgrounds especially of what is supposed to be LAX are stark even if they weren’t possibly shot there. One scene shot at dusk is beautiful, simple and almost shot with natural light yet Bale’s acting seems relaxed. Very difficult to pull off and yet it seems very smooth.

Matt Damon has to do more of the heavily lifting and despite his utter competency as an actor he can never quite disappear. His balance of the politics and creativity within Shelby is the fuel that keeps the plot moving. It is the less showy part but nonetheless crucial. Not since, to a lesser point actually, “Days Of Thunder” has there been both the nature of life in design and on the track that feels so organic. But neither Bale or Damon try to overwhelm a scene like Cruise would. Even the story beats which obviously reflect real life have a relativity to them so you can see one action reflect another. While characters like Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II have their parts to play, others have definite possibility while others grind a little bit. The actor who plays Lea Iaccoca has the efficiency of knowing the balance and plays the part with elegance while Josh Lucas in his first big film in years adequately hits his notes but could have instilled more bravado. There seems no heart to his decisions. Even someone trying to save their own job is not so one-dimensional. But this is a small discrepancy in what it is an extremely effective film.

The racing scenes, and even more specifically, the training scenes where Bale’s Ken is helping Damon’s Shelby make the car better just makes the film sing. But that pacing is essential especially when it gets to Le Mans. This is something you can’t do in say “Speed Racer”. Bale’s character, at one point when he is racing at Le Mans, has an moment of enlightenment but it is wrapped in a sense of both ego and humility at the same time. That is stakes and heart on the line. Ultimately that is where cinema connects. And “Ford V. Ferrari” has it.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE BOURNE LEGACY [Universal]

Re-envisioning the texture of a major action franchise is always a difficulty especially if its basis comes from the juxtaposing ideas of a book. While the initial vapidity of the “Bourne” films played with competent but overindulgent strings to Matt Damon’s earlier “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, many of those films seemed like a cop out because they derailed from the books themselves whose narrative flow allowed for a sense of loss that really didn’t play because Bourne was such a blank slate who happened to have these abilities.

What allows the new “Bourne Legacy” to shine in many points is because it allows for that framework as a backdrop and fashions a new story to show a bigger picture. Interestingly enough, what causes that to happen is the aspect of the screenwriter Tony Gilroy (of “Michael Clayton” fame but also screenwriter of all the previous “Bourne” films). The paradox of that in relation to the first paragraph is sound but, by allowing him to direct his own screenplay, much of the exposition written in the right way is left in. This film feels more like a novel in its progression than the previous incarnations. Granted there are some key action scenes (most notably the end) but for the most part (like “Michael Clayton” which he also directed), it is a thinking man’s dialogue-driven piece. However, what makes this work, which might be problematic for other actors, is that Jeremy Renner is a character actor at heart who has been given the opportunity after “The Hurt Locker” to play a leading character and his presence allows him to almost disappear at times in the background while still maintaining adequate poise and effect. Like Daniel Craig, who had a similar ascension, he is not a classically handsome actor, which makes him all the more interesting but also allows you not to project anything on him (think if you will of William H. Macy who can embody different people without taking on the qualities as his own). While some of the conjecture of why Renner’s character Aaron does what he does, balances on the inane at times (which made some laugh in the audience), its logic is sound for the most part. Those few moments can be overlooked because of the forward momentum of the picture.

Edward Norton provides an energetic foil as a guy that is neither good nor bad, simply containing a situation and the dialogue balances perfectly for someone of his intellect. The viral conditioning of Renner’s character also allows for something at stake for him as well. The delivery mechanism is a little shaky but again, not enough to derail it. Rachel Weisz (ironically now the wife of Daniel Craig in real life) returns to franchise elements after famously leaving Universal’s “Mummy”. This character is quite visceral and intelligent but ultimately towards the end becomes a “damsel” (especially in the ending sequence) which cannot be helped. Her research cruxes exactly what Renner’s character must solve. At times, the dialogue she has is at the very high end in terms of process which likely will go over most moviegoers heads, like the texture of stereo instructions. However, it does propel the story.

The bigger narrative comes as a plot point in the shutdown of the program the original character “Bourne” was part of. The use visually (and allowance) of Damon’s character makes for a connection without needing physically to have the actor there. All small things, like the inclusion of small scenes with Joan Allen and Albert Finney as hold overs from the previous films, keeps you in the world. In many ways, “Bourne Legacy” is a lower res version of the previous films yet on an intellectual level, at times, operates higher because of the texture of its cast and, very honestly, the man behind the wheel: Gilroy. While the ending very egregiously points to more (almost interrupting mid-story), its intent and focus works allowing for a film that is not the same or a reboot but a resurrection into the same world with new possibilities.

B

IR In-The-Trenches: CONTAGION [Warner Bros]

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