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TIFF Derring-Do Double: "The Aeronauts" and "Ford v Ferrari"

by Nathaniel R

Those magnificent men (and women) and their flying machines. What prompts people to build aerodymanic death traps in which to race at incredible never before accomplished speeds or go up up up to never before seen heights?  Today's double feature centers on just this type of man and their creations.  

FORD V FERRARI (James Mangold)
This very handsomely made film centers around a famous late 60s battle between the massive Ford Motor Company and the Italian boutique manufacturer Ferrari. How did Detroit's Henry Ford II come to battle Enzo Ferrarri in the European playground of Le Mans anyway? And how does the film get you to root for the Goliath rather than the David in this battle? That's the magic of this old fashioned well-paced movie. Older audiences might be familiar with this story but we weren't so it all played out like a fleet-footed and hot wheeled corporate drama mixed with inspirational sports movie...

We didn't know the ending in advance. We assume that's also true for some of you so we won't spoil any of the plot details.

Let's just say that the film has a good deal of fun shuffling its chess players around the board. Various suits at Ford and the racers on the ground have different agendas. At times the film overreaches for its drama, particularly with a sad-faced Matt Damon focused epilogue and also whenever it tries to include the sole female cast member of note Caitronia Balfe. Stranded in the thankless role of 'supportive wife' she overreaches in her big scene, but wouldn't you when you're otherwise just there to pat your screen husband on his shoulder? But the rest of the cast gets fun things to play including Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas and Noah Jupe (on a quest to become every movie star's son onscreen). Christian Bale is reliably gripping as the hot-headed driver Ken Miles enlisted by retired racer and automobile designer Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon) who instinctively knows that Miles is 'the one' for this new mission impossible. Though we'll happily call the always terrific Tracy Letts best in show as Henry Ford II. He comes into every room/scene with great authority, though the nagging idea that he's the son of a pioneer that casts a long shadow is always just under his skin's surface. He's so measured and still in his presentation that whenever an emotion does spring out of him, it's like someone just floored it and the movie is off racing again whether or not we're on the track. The most obvious example of this is great scene in which he comes fully alive -is he laughing or crying -- inside the newly built racecar.

Matt Damon and Tracy Letts in one of the best scenes in "Ford v Ferrari"

Grade: B
MVP: Various Department Heads
Oscar Possibilities
: Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actor Tracy Letts (unless Bale commits fraud which will have us steaming since Letts is overdue for recognition), and Film Editing are the key ones to watch. But where it could actually compete for a win is in the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories ... in fact, we're almost ready to ink in those two nominations. If it's a big hit with adult audiences in November and thus gets some added campaign luster, perhaps we'll see it in other places, too, like Best Picture or Best Production Design? One outside possibility is Best Costume Design. Nope, there are no gowns to speak of but there are a lot of gorgeous tailored men's suits and engineering scrubs and race car uniforms from never-nominated-but-shoulda-been-already Daniel Orlandi (Down with Love, Cinderella Man, Saving Mr Banks, etcetera). 

Theory of Everything lovers take to the sky in "The Aeronauts"

Is it strange to lump this in with a True Story like Ford v Ferrari? We do know that James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) made a series of historic flights beginning in 1862 and that in one of them a pigeon froze to death (oops microscopic spoiler) but his co-pilot was actually another male scientist, his regular partner on such voyages. Instead the film gives us James Glaisher being inspired by a different fictional male friend (Himesh Patel) and seeking the help of a feisty fictional widowed aeronaut Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) to pilot a balloon for his maiden voyage. Using a trueish base, it then heavily fictionalizes an adventure story upon it.

Purists and sexists won't like the changes but the movie is likeable. With the fictional elements it feels less like a try-hard true story and more like a family adventure film. It respects the intelligence and competence of female ingenuity and skill and gives Amelia a lot to do. Feminist appeal aside, the film's chief selling point is in the visuals. The balloon is a mammoth beauty and the big blue vistas we get once we're airborne are even prettier.

If you're interested in the real story, James Glashier wrote a memoir about itThe action is hit or miss in terms of thrills, though. The launch and landing are exciting bookends but just as many moments feel heavily manipulated to make a point of "here's an action scene!". Credit the still-lovely but flexible chemistry of Redmayne and Jones for keeping the movie aloft even as frequent choppy flashbacks and clunky script-choices threaten to deflate the whole thing. As today's pilots might say, 'expect turbulence.' The Aeronauts is a mixed bag but the low oxgyen highs are something.

Grade: B-/C+
MVP: Let's give it to whoever made the balloon and the props department in general -so many bizarre gadgets.
Oscar Possibilities: Nothing in the big categories. Amazon pulling back on a theatrical release is a problem; this movie begs for scale to serve its intended thrills. Nevertheless you might see it pop up in one or two craft categories if its lucky: Costume Design, Makeup and Hair, and Original Song are all options.

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Reader Comments (10)

Aeronauts: is Redmayne more co-lead? Other reviews make it sound like he's more Supporting Actor with Jones as lead.

Ford v Ferrari: Imma be honest, the trailer made me think that this could be a possible frontrunner for Musical/Comedy BP at the Globes.

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I'd like to see Aeronauts but I just cannot with Eddie Redmayne.

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I fear I'll turn straight if I watch Ford v Ferrari.

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@markgordonuk-Agreed. I'm getting really annoyed by him.

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Typo. James Glaisher 1862 not 1962.

I looking forward to Ford v Ferrari. Glad to hear it is not disappointing.

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVaus

@thevoid99 He's like a male Anne Hathaway.

September 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

If you're not looking forward to FORD v FERRARI, some classic movie context might help.

In the year of the real 1966 Le Mans race which is the climax of the movie, two big-budget fiction films you've probably heard of, and featuring the competing Ford and Ferrari teams, were released.

GRAND PRIX starred James Garner and Eva Marie Saint (and won 3 Oscars) and focused more on the Ferrari team. John Frankenheimer used footage of one of the Ferrari drivers in the June 1966 Belgian Grand Prix, which took place only a week before the Le Mans race, in the finished film (released in December).

A MAN AND A WOMAN (won 2 Oscars, also nominated for Best Director and Best Actress) featured the Ford Le Mans car.

September 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Chris - it's absolutely a co-lead movie. They're both in it the whole time and they each get backstory flashbacks to explain how they got to the main adventure. Felicity opens the movie and Eddie closes it. It actually couldn't be any more of a double-lead movie if it tried ;)

September 14, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Mark -- Redmayne has tampered down his mannerisms a bit here so I started to like his face again :)

Steve -- thank you for the context

September 14, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

markgordonuk: I'm not sure I'd compare Redmayne to Hathaway. Hathaway aims at "royal", but Redmayne aims more at "awkward." Asperger's strength Hugh Grant?

September 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

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