September 10, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Ford vs. Ferrari” & “The Laundromat”


FORD VS. FERRARI (20th Century Fox/Disney – November 15):  If the Academy decides to award James Mangold’s Ford vs. Ferrari, which is certainly a possibility, it will be able to have some metaphorical cake and eat it too.  FvsF is both a first-rate example of Hollywood corporate entertainment and a story that questions what any individual, no matter how gifted, can do in the face of corporate might.  The script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller starts with the attempt of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), at the suggestion of the young Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), to buy out Enzo Ferrari, which was not only rejected but brutally spurned, and Ford’s decision to hit Ferrari where it would hurt most, by disrupting the Italian’s string of victories at the 24-hour long LeMans race.  In order to do that, Ford would need a visionary auto designer in the person of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), and Shelby made it clear that they would need the best driver alive to anchor the team, which meant the tempestuous, obsessive Ken Miles (Christian Bale).  Ford vs Ferrari is less about the rivalry between the two auto company owners than the conflict between Ford’s corporate-minded executives, especially Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), and the uncompromising Miles, with Shelby attempting to act as mediator.  Substitute any art-minded film director for Miles and Big Hollywood for Ford and the subtext is clear, even more so now that Ford vs Ferrari was one of the last films produced by 20th Century Fox before it was devoured by Disney.  So a vote for the film is for both independent artists and Disney itself.  None of that subtext would matter if Ford vs Ferrari weren’t award-caliber to begin with, and it’s a stirring piece of old-time storytelling and top-dollar craft, from the roster of actors (Bale has the flashiest part and delivers in spades, although Damon is equally excellent with a less exciting role) to Mangold’s assured direction, to the editing by Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt, to the production design by Francois Audouy, to the cinematography by Phedon Papamichael and the music by Marco Beltrami.   It may be a bit too long at 152 minutes (there’s a lot about Miles and his steadfast wife and son, played by Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe), but it supplies both racetrack thrills and a bittersweet view of what happens when moneymen control the work of artists.  That’s a package that could appeal to both audiences and industry voters.

THE LAUNDROMAT (Netflix – September 27 in theatres/October 18 streaming):  More of an illustrated essay about money laundering, off-shore banking and tax avoidance than a conventional narrative.  The Laundromat is relatively minor Steven Soderbergh, although inventive and inspired at times.  It begins as the story of Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep), whose husband dies in a freak accident, and who can’t collect on her claim because those at fault have their funds tied up in shell corporations and off-shore accounts.  Our way through that maze is guided by cheerfully crooked lawyers Mossack (Gary Oldman, sporting a handlebar moustache of an accent) and Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) in set-piece sequences of narration.  They also steer viewers to other stories involving crooked business people from Africa and China to uneven effect, before arriving anti-climactically at the revelations of the Panama Papers.  (The film does, however, find more for Streep to do.)  The message from Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (also writer of Soderbergh’s The Informant! and writer/director of The Report) is clear, and The Laundromat is a diverting way ot delivering that lesson.  Its somewhat Godardian restless data dump style, however, forecloses much emotional investment.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."