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The History of The Grudge: The Beginning of the Curse

31 Days of Horror

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Ju-On, or The Grudge, is an iconic J-horror franchise with some of the most chilling films the genre has to offer. The first entry, Ju-On: The Grudge came out back in 2002, and the series is still going today. With several reboots and a few spinoff films, there is a lot to unpack when digging back through the franchise. As it’s a series that any horror fan should make themselves familiar with, I’ll be putting together a history of The Grudge, from its short beginnings all the way to its possible future, detailing the history of not only the Ju-On films but also the timeline and victims of the curse itself — as well as how it develops as that infinitely dark mark left in that house grows and grows.

Needless to say, spoilers abound.

To set things up, a young and aspiring filmmaker by the name of Takashi Shimizu was attending the Film School of Tokyo in 1998. He studied under one Kiyoshi Kurosawa (a filmmaker with his own fame, but completely unrelated to Akira Kurosawa), who invited him to assist with making a horror anthology. This is where the curse begins…

‘4444444444’ & ‘Katasumi’

The first two shorts in the Ju-On story are around three minutes each, and are more like single concepts backed by the idea of the curse. Originally, Takashi Shimizu had planned on more to contribute to the horror anthology film Gakko no Kaidan G (or, School Ghost Story G), which these two shorts became a part of. It’s possible that some ideas brought forward to the followups of Ju-On: The Curse 1 & 2 were ones he had played around with in the making of “4444444444” and “Katasumi.”

Whilst the two are singular entities that can stand on their own as concept shorts, Takashi Shimizu himself does see these as the beginning of it all, referring to them as “almost like the true prequel of the story.” If you’ve not seen these two before, they’re highly worth the time, and can be tracked down on YouTube easily enough. It’s also really satisfying to go from these to The Curse and see how the narratives fit in together.

The ‘Toshio’ side of the shorts actually showcases some talented control over camera angles and framing.

“4444444444” deals with the technology aspect, with the ringing phone bringing a student riding home to his demise. After finding a strange phone left beside some junk in an alleyway, he sees that it’s getting a call from the number “4444444444.” The number might seem a bit odd to Westerners, but the number 4 is closely associated with death in Japan (due to the similarity between one reading of the number, “Shi,” and the word for death, also “Shi”) and is considered unlucky. Upon answering, he’s met with…

A cat meowing. Somehow, Takashi Shimizu makes a cat meowing creepy, with an odd and almost pained vocalization. Cats making prank calls aside, the student hangs up, a little frustrated, but instantly gets another call. Frustration with the cat prankster turns into unease as he starts to believe whoever is on the other line can see him. After asking as much, a voice replies in the affirmative.

And here’s Toshio! It’s the first appearance of the franchise’s weird naked boy ghost. Whilst the ending of “4444444444” is pretty goofy and smacks of student filmmaker, there are a lot of little elements that would be polished and brought forward through the entire series. We get the technology influence, the pained cat, and Toshio (who appear together most of the time), in addition to some solid camerawork. It’s the weaker of the two shorts, but still has merit.

Takashi Shimizu’s other contribution to the horror anthology, a bit more ambitious in approach.

“Katasumi” also exists within a single space, but this time there are two female student characters tending to the school rabbits after everyone else has gone home. Broadening the static (but well-placed) angles that Takashi Shimizu focused in on in his other short, he he employs voyeuristic handicam shots that break up the simple dialogue. After Kanna, one of the girls, somehow manages to cut her finger on a clipboard by picking it up, the other, Hisayo, goes off to find a bandage. She soon returns to find her friend missing.

Whilst “Katasumi” doesn’t present many iconic elements that would continue on, there’s one major part that went on to be the core of the series. We get our first look at Kayako Saeki (played by Takako Fuji) stalking out from the shadows. The actress played Kayako all the way until Grudge 3, and made the character terrifying. Her unnatural movements, iconic look, and dedication to creating the character carried Kayako Saeki to becoming a genre icon.

Seeing Kayako for the first time is amazing, but the weird noise she makes is somewhat…off. It’s still creepy, but the ragged outtake of breath that went on to be so closely associated with the character lends itself to subtlety a bit more. Not that Kayako doesn’t make a similarly strange moaning sound later on in the series, but the croaking is much more commonplace here. On the topic of sound, we see that Kanna has succumbed to the curse, and is now manipulated by it (another element Shimizu holds onto strongly as the series continues), as she turns and makes some sort of dinosaur-like sound. It’s an odd choice, but these little bits of jank make for a charming start, and set up so much that Shimizu would hone as he developed his vision.

In the end, Gakko no Kaidan G featured four segments, with Shimizu contributing to less than 10% of the runtime, yet it’s his segments that gave birth to greatness.

Ju-On: The Curse 1 & 2

The curse begins, two halves to make a whole as evident by the covers.

The first film in the Ju-On catalogue weaves in the events of “4444444444” and “Katasumi,” rather than simply bouncing off the ideas. Throughout Ju-On: The Curse those two shorts come together as a part of the whole narrative, and things start to make a lot more sense when context is provided. Whilst it jumps around in timeframe, it should first be noted that The Curse 1 & 2 were released to V-cinema (Japan’s straight-to-video catalog) and theaters in the same year, and feel like two halves that make a whole. Hell, even the first thirty minutes or so of The Curse 2 was lifted directly from the ending of the first in order to catch viewers up.

The Curse gets audiences caught up with the events that transpired within the Saeki family home that led to the Grudge forming, though in no clear, direct way. It’s a non-linear experience that expertly moves between characters as we fill in the story, taking place over three distinct time periods. This is truly where the mythos begins, getting into the swing of things with a chaotic but incredible piece of J-Horror cinema that helped define the genre.

Kayako is one of the pillars of that ‘long haired ghost girl’ image so synonymous with J-Horror.

As the film progresses, it is revealed that in a particular house Takeo Saeki was driven into a jealous rage that resulted in him brutally murdering his wife, Kayako, son Toshio, and the family cat, Mar. Only a little bit of backstory of Kayako herself is revealed, and in a subtle way as to never plot-dump. When she was at university, she fell head over heels for a man named Shunsuke Kobayashi; unfortunately, due to being shy and seen as rather creepy by those around her, she couldn’t act on her love before Kobayashi began dating Manami Midorikawa. So instead, Kayako met and married Takeo, who seemed to be the only one who understood her.

Her obsession for Kobayashi only grew over the years, and she journaled her borderline-stalker inner feelings long into her marriage with Takeo. Once Takeo found out, he flipped, and an argument ended with him viciously attacking her. As we get into the remakes later, the origin of the curse is flipped a bit, but in the original it comes from the intense way Takeo sees to the end of Kayako’s life. The actual act isn’t clearly shown throughout these two films — only hinted at — but it appears as if she was stabbed to death. This evolves over time, and her death directly relates to the way in which she manifests, but for the moment all we get is repeated stabbing.

The main thing to take from the The Curse is the forming of the curse itself through this violent act, with Toshio’s fate as of yet unknown, outside of dying around the same time as his mother (the same can be said of Mar, as it’s revealed in a future film exactly what went down with those two). Takeo’s murder spree leaves a dark imprint of tragedy upon the house, and even extends out to Manami and her unborn child as well. This is how the Grudge itself begins, and how the franchise sets off on its path. Two more families eventually occupy the Saeki home over the course of this film — the Murukami family, and the Kitada couple — with the Murukamis meeting quickfire ends through the curse claiming them, whilst there is a glimpse of Kayako possessing Yoshimi Kitada.

The Curse brings forth the very non-supernatural tragedy Takeo inflicts upon his own family as well as the Kobayashis, and that fetus-in-a-bag is a terrifying detail.

Despite its CG aging and the lower film quality (even for 2000), there’s so much iconic J-horror flavor bursting forth that The Curse is well worth tracking down. Sure, Ringu set the bar for J-horror pretty high, but Shimizu was up to the task at putting forward his own induction to the genre. Having this alongside the two short films creates a fantastic jigsaw that fits together so well (with the children of the Murukami family being the subjects of the two prior shorts), and it’s a joy to piece together as the film goes on. Whilst the series really hits its stride later on, with Ju-On: The Grudge itself, The Curse has that special something that makes this whole series such a satisfying one. Its interconnectedness — those non-linear segments that slowly reveal the big picture as time goes on — is something that sadly is forgotten the further into the series one goes.

Meanwhile, The Curse 2 has a lot more imagery that doesn’t hold up very well, though it maintains that incredible atmosphere for the most part. However, there are some absolutely shining moments that deserve mention, like Kayako standing in the rain in the distance, a few great shots of her moving around almost unnoticeable in the background, and the many Kayakos scratching at the windows.

Most of the more effective imagery comes late in this second film.

The Curse 2 also introduces a new mechanic, as the Grudge grows ever stronger and is now is able to spread through it’s victims, affecting those who haven’t even set foot in the house itself. Tajii and Fumi Suzuki — mother and father of the real estate agent in charge of selling the cursed house, Tatsuya Suzuki — are taken by the lingering spirit infecting their daughter, Kyoko (who did enter the house, though her parents did not).

Another interesting element put into the curse — which is never explored again through this individual — is that of Manami. The woman murdered by Takeo whilst she was heavily pregnant has her own grudge, and curses Nobuyuki Suzuki, the son of Tatsuya, while he lives in her old apartment. Her grudge has the same overbearing presence and deadly end for him as the Saeki family one does, but despite Manami’s curse being on him, he is still haunted and eventually succumbs to Kayako herself.

Manami’s curse is also upon Kyoko, even possessing her, but ultimately the spirit of Kayako overtakes it. It’s possible that Kayako’s curse is just far stronger, and it takes on other ‘Grudge’ scenarios and feeds on them. Throughout these two Curse films, Kayako’s influence and ability only grows stronger and stronger, and she finds she can reach out well beyond the limitations of those who set foot inside the central location of the curse. Whilst the sea of Kayako clones looks pretty goofy (outside of that one amazing shot of them all scratching at the windows), it gets over the cyclical and never-ending nature of the curse, and really hammers home the inevitability of this consuming all around it.

Despite the over the top hammering of spooky imagery the finale of the film presents, there’s some understated but certainly effective shots as well.

These films laid the groundwork for what would become the series, with two solid and memorable J-Horror installments building towards what would be the breakout hit of Ju-On: The Grudge in 2002. Shimizu’s shorts impressed enough that he got a few producers interested in funding a two-part, full length project. Releasing them as V-Cinema minimized the risk, putting them comfortably amongst other lower budget horror flicks whilst having a limited theater showing alongside the release. And hitting audiences almost as hard as Ringu put Shimizu’s name out there, as well as showed his growing prowess at building eerie tension alongside some genuine scares.

Up next we’ll hit the glory years of The Grudge, with the phenomenal success of the next film in the series inspiring not only another sequel, but also an American remake series to explode forth. Stay tuned for the next part in our detailing of the history.

THE CURSE: Victim Timeline

Every victim of the curse, and the events that caused it, in chronological order. MAJOR spoilers follow, but it’s interesting to lay out everything the curse consumes over these films. And, hell, let’s rack up the body count as well.

Kayako & Toshio Saeki, Mar – Kayako is murdered viciously by Takeo, creating the curse. Mar the cat is also murdered. It’s worth noting that Takeo also killed Manami and her unborn child, but they did not figure directly into the curse. On the note of Toshio, however, despite Takeo leaving him in the attic to die (a scene not yet shown, but it’ll come later down the road), it’s Kayako’s spirit that graces him with a quicker death and brings him into the curse.

Manami Kobayashi & her unborn daughter – The heavily pregnant and soon expecting Manami is killed by Takeo, along with her unborn daughter.

Shunsuke Kobayashi – The object of Kayako’s secret affections, a school teacher who comes to the house in order to check up on Toshio, as he’s been absent for some time. Kobayashi is the first victim of the curse, not counting the murder commited by Takeo before becoming a spirit. Kayako and Toshio show their Onryo side, and Kayako, in a very rare moment, actually speaks and calls his name. It’s right before killing him, but still, a nice final gesture.

Takeo Saeki – Kayako takes final vengeance on her murderer, though vengeance is not enough to quell the incredible power of the curse itself.

Yuki – Tutor and friend of the Murukami daughter, Kanna. With the Murakami’s being the new owners of the Saeki house, she unfortunately finds herself alone for a few moments inside. Investigating that iconic croaking sound, Yuki comes face to face with Kayako in the attic.

Kanna Murakami & Hisayo Yoshida & Noriko Murakami – Kanna forgets that she needs to go to school to feed the rabbits, and leaves her tutor, Yuki at her house whilst she goes to do it. These events are detailed in the short film “Katasumi,” as Kayako finds her and her school friend, Hisayo Yoshida, meeting their gruesome end. It could be argued that Kanna, as she appears bloody and missing a jaw later on, survived for longer than the next two victims. However, what is much more likely is that this severely abused form was her body piloted by The Grudge itself, rather than her surviving to stumble home. Seeing as her mother, Noriko — the one that finds her — also disappears, it’s safe to say the curse claimed her through Kanna.

Tsuyoshi Murakami – Not knowing what has happened just one room over from his own, the Murukami’s son, Tsuyoshi, decides to go to school to meet his girlfriend. Along the way the events of “4444444444” happen, with him finding a phone ringing. Toshio is the spirit that appears before him, and is implied to be the one claiming him for the curse.

Mizuho Tamura – Tsuyoshi’s girlfriend, searching for him at school. A teacher tells her that no one is left, despite his bike being there. Whilst the teacher searches the school once more, Mizuho gets a call from the same number, and once again Toshio is there to collect.

Kyoko Suzuki & Yoshimi Kitada – Kyoko is the sister of the real estate agent in charge of selling the Saeki house, and is also conveniently sensitive to spirits. An odd one to place on a timeline, but she — as well as the newest resident in the Saeki home, Yoshimi Kitada — is possessed by Manami and Kayako, respectively (though Kayako overtakes Kyoko’s possession as well). As soon as the possession takes hold, there’s no real hope for either of them, so they’ll be placed as victims here.

Hiroshi Kitada – Victim of frying pan to the head from his wife. Yoshimi was possessed by Kayako, however, so she racks up that point.

Tatsuya Suzuki – The real estate agent, checking up on the new residents. Once again, the possessed Yoshimi Kitada kills him, and once again the point going to Kayako.

Tajii & Fumi Suzuki – Briefly seen parents of Kyoko and Tatsuya. The curse emanates from the possessed Kyoko, and presumably it is Kayako’s presence that appears to frighten them to death.

Yoshikawa & his wife & Kamio – Detective Yoshikawa is in charge of working out all the murders linked to the house, and is seemingly driven mad by his investigation. He and his wife are taken out by Kayako, who then moves on to another investigator, Kamio, whom she brazenly attacks right in the police station, showing that there is no safe place from her curse.

Noboyuki Suzuki – The final member of the Suzuki family — and final body count for these two films — is ruthlessly pursued through school and claimed by Kayako. Potentially due to his similar appearance to Toshio, Kayako holds him like a child, and his skin goes the same pale color as Toshio’s is.

Despite possession playing a large part in the second film, the first doesn’t make any real allusion to it, and thus Kanna still gets her point, as it appears that her spirit was drawn into the curse, and lashed out on its own. So, there we have it: 23 victims down, and pulled into the grudge. Here’s a quick scorecard, to see the exact weight of murder throughout the series at this point.

Kanna – 1
Toshio – 2
Takeo – 4
Kayako – 16

Shane Dover is a Melbourne, Australia based freelance writer contributing to Japanese punk news site Punx Save The Earth, punk publication Dying Scene, Diabolique Magazine and Goomba Stomp. Not just a fan of punk music, he's spent most of his life obsessed with the horror genre across all media, Japanese cinema, as well as pop culture in general. He plays music and writes fiction, check out his Twitter (https://twitter.com/Karzid) for updates on those projects. Follow him on Twitter, and check out his work every Wednesday on Dying Scene.

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past

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Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.

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Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood

A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.

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Ford v Ferrari

Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.

When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.

Ford v Ferrari

Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.

Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.

Ford v Ferrari

Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.

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