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Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

There is a moment in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” when Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) – or is it Fred Rogers? (or does it matter?) – recounts how a case of childhood bullying helped develop his world-famous empathy. And for a moment, you can imagine this as a more traditional movie, perhaps beginning as Mr. Rogers is about to testify on Capitol Hill and then flashing back to this case of childhood bullying. Director Marielle Heller, however, working from a script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, is not interested in laying out his life story brick by brick like some prosaic biopic but in capturing the experience of simply being in the presence of Rogers and how, even in his presence, the Mr. Rogers persona was indistinguishable from who he was. That’s why the movie opens with him entering that familiar door and ends with him exiting, meaning that even if we spend as much time with other characters, we are cosmically on his quietly attentive time nonetheless, brought home in Hanks’s performance, which does not mimic that slowed down speaking style of the real Mr. Rogers so much as honor its good intentions.

Heller frames her story through Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a stand-in for real-life journalist Tom Junod who wrote the 1998 Esquire article on which the film is based. That piece proved to be less a profile than an avenue to Junod’s own self-reflection, an idea which “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” honors by making Lloyd the narrative focal point. He suffers from a cantankerousness that is only emphasized when his estranged, good-for-nothing father (Chris Cooper) comes back into his life, a subplot not rendered in any particular illuminating way, no matter how hard Cooper works at it, just a means to give Lloyd a hill to climb with his interview subject becoming something akin to his conversational Sherpa.

If the talks between Mr. Rogers and Lloyd mostly come in standard shot/reverse shot packaging, Heller has a clever way of cutting back and forth in medium shots, imperceptibly drawing you in to the scene’s rhythm before, suddenly, switching to a close-up of Mr. Rogers. On the TV, after all, his intention was to soothe, which is why the camera maintained some distance, and is why Heller’s close-ups are jarring in this truly guttural way, seeing the friendliest of faces looming over Lloyd (looming over us). And if these Tête-à-têtes typically begin with Lloyd trying to pry personal information out of his subject, the unexpected close-ups become an embodiment of how Mr. Rogers turns the tables without Lloyd even knowing, and which Rhys underlines by letting all the guile drain from his air.

In a sense, Lloyd becomes a character on the show even as he’s supposed to be conducting an interview, the lines not just blurring between reality and make-believe, as they do in transition shots of model sets showing of the film’s locations, like Pittsburgh and New York, calling to mind The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but occasionally doing away with them altogether. In Lloyd’s first on-set visit, he watches Daniel Striped Tiger conversing with Lady Aberlin, and as he does, Lloyd moves to a vantage point where he can see Mr. Rogers maneuvering the Daniel puppet. If this seems to suggest a shattering of the illusion, Lloyd sees it as Mr. Rogers living out what he preaches and how he acts. Later, in an astonishing moment when Heller has Mr. Freaking Rogers go, like, all French New Wave, he asks us to live it out by breaking the fourth wall.

Moments like this last one come perilously to rendering Mr. Rogers as a deity, or a living saint, as Lloyd puts it in one of his queries. “What’s it like being married to a living saint?” he asks Joanne Rogers (Maryann Plunkett), his profile’s spouse. Plunkett’s time on screen is brief but she makes it count, having Joanne look at Lloyd with a blank expression that kind of refuses to take the question seriously and that would be deadpan comedy if you couldn’t tell it was so sincere. In just a few words, she sets Lloyd’s preconceived notions straight, admitting her husband has a temper. It’s not a temper we see, really, perhaps because the movie only allows a couple scenes just in the stead of Mr. Rogers. Hanks, however, quietly hints at it anyway, especially in those famous Rogers-ish pauses, which Hanks utilizes like someone taking a moment to carefully gather his thoughts before proceeding, illustrating his familiar advice of what to do when you get angry. And he honors his own advice in the movie’s last scene, a stunner, which goes on for a few beats longer than you might expect, demonstrating how the show trails into Roger’s life and vice-versa, and how he sometimes seeks the very sort of relief he provides for everyone else.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Irishman

“The Irishman”, you might have heard, is long, running three hours and thirty minutes. That’s because of its scope, certainly, encompassing decades by telling a story within a story within a story – beginning in the present, flashing back to the past, and then flashing back to a deeper past – while providing a dramatized history lesson of how the mob and labor unions went hand in hand. The length, though, is also how director Martin Scorsese plays his most brilliant trick. Throughout, he will freeze-frame some mafia so and so, throwing up a title card denoting the stiff’s future date and cause of death. It’s a funny recurring joke but it’s also Grandmaster Marty foreshadowing what’s to come. He’s using not just the passage of time but passage of the movie’s time against us. That’s not to suggest “The Irishman” is ponderous, merely deliberate, as rather than gathering steam Scorsese stresses the length in the assorted characters and details and events so that just as it begins to feel like it – the movie and, more to the point, life itself – might be a drag, poof…it’s all gone and there’s no getting it back.

Scorsese opens with a trademark Steadicam shot winding not through the hallways of the Copacabana but down the corridors of an old folks’ home, giving the accompanying Five Satins version of “In the Still of the Night” a morbid spin, the camera eventually finding Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), ex-mafia hitman and Teamster higher-up, confined to a wheelchair. At first, we hear him in voiceover until, a few sentences in, suddenly, he starts talking out loud. Not to us, necessarily, and certainly not to anyone around him. No, “The Irishman” is based on a 2004 book by Charles Brandt, “I Heard You Paint Houses”, in which the real-life Sheeran claimed to have been responsible for the legendary, unsolved demise of eminent Union man Jimmy Hoffa. Scorsese’s film presents that demise in stone-cold clarity, but this beginning calls that presentation into question, casting Frank as an unreliable narrator than in the form of an old guy babbling on and on.

Indeed, Frank is telling us his story, but very much in the vein of an Aged Fella with a wandering mind, which is why “The Irishman” jumps around so much, accentuated by how rather than casting younger actors for passages taking place as far back as the 1950s and 60s, Scorsese employs digital de-aging for his older cast. This has the eerie effect, intentional or not, of making it seem like a hazy, half-remembered dream, one where you can’t quite see yourself the way you really were. If occasionally entire past events are glossed over in just a few words, at other points “The Irishman” lingers, like Frank pouring over a road map, narrating the precise route he plans to take on a crucial car trip to Detroit, exactly the sort of impertinent but oddly precise details a senile narrator would ensure to include, all of which evoke how some memories evaporate and others remain crystal clear.

Though Frank begins as a simple delivery driver, he makes fast friends with a Philadelphia crime boss, Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci like, all these years later, he’s graduated to Paul Sorvino’s level, not having to move for anybody, merely sitting still and twisting his lips into a variety of smiles illuminating each thought, good, bad, or in-between. And Russell puts in a word for him with none other than Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), labor leader extraordinaire, an incredible contradiction of a character who stands up for his charges even as he indulges in petty slights and turns a blind eye toward violence, all embodied in Pacino’s bravado and bluster, a guy who can’t help but inexorably move toward pulling the whole kingdom down on his head. And so Frank exists in this world as a gangland Zelig, played by DeNiro with a poker-faced expression suggesting a guy just punching a clock, which gets us to the movie’s truth.

If there is a faded glamour to these middle passages, especially like Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night, a banquet honoring all his work for the Union, a virtual mini-movie, demonstrating the mob’s penchant for simultaneous business and pleasure, where the wheeling and dealing ostensibly going on behind your back is happening right in front of you, this is all a far cry from the doomed romanticism of Henry Hill’s voiceover in “Goodfellas” or Sam “Ace” Rothstein fondly remembering How It All Worked in “Casino.” No, Frank is just a cog in the Teamster machine, going about his work like a blue-collar laborer. In one extended sequence we see this hitman’s myriad guns laid out on the screen before us as he explains the effectiveness and purpose of each one, like a salesman briefing you on lawn mower varieties. Eventually he is called upon to use those tools on Hoffa, a sequence befitting this workingman vibe, noticeably stripped of any thrills, just a business trip charting every component, no different than him examining that road map.

Frank learns of Hoffa’s impending fate over breakfast, a scene where Russell pours him cereal, portraying them as akin to a married couple. That is just as true of an earlier scene, one where Frank and Hoffa share a hotel room, two men in fabulous pajamas discussing important things before bed, explicitly rendering work as family and vice-versa, as if re-editing Karen Hill’s observation in “Goodfellas” about how they “did everything together” to remove the wives. The children too, which brings us to Frank’s daughter Peggy, played as a little girl by Lucy Gallina and as an adult by Ann Paquin. Here Scorsese sort of metaphorically re-edits the scene in which Karen watches Henry brutalize the country club dufus who assaults her by having the young Peggy witness her father violently attack a shopkeeper. In “The Irishman” this moment is not intoxicating but ruining, cementing Lucy’s attitude toward her father as she essentially closes down around him forevermore, transforming Paquin into something akin to Jodhi May in “Last of the Mohicans”, visually recording everything she sees for posterity and withholding until she coolly erupts.

Peggy is pointedly not a reflective character, providing a means for Frank to see himself as he really is. Rather she’s more like a one-way mirror, evoked in shot where she looks down on him from above through her window, seeing him for who he really is, something he himself cannot process. And that’s the neatest trick of DeNiro’s turn, how its deep ignorance creeps up on you, brought home in the majestic, mind-numbing moment when he fields a call from Jo Hoffa (Welker White), Jimmy’s wife, at a moment I probably don’t need to spell out for you, and verbally bumbles his way through it, struggling to find not the right words, really, but any words, just uttering this heartbreaking mush. For all the notions of unorthodox family “The Irishman” exudes, the movie’s slow denouncement unmasks that as drivel, just machinations for power among important men and less important men who do the dirty work. This is not a “Benjamin Button” situation, exactly, but that’s sort of what “The Irishman”, in its own way, suggests as emotionally Frank gets smaller and smaller as the movie goes longer and longer.

In the closing moments, we see him from afar and then, for a flicker, in a shot looking up from directly below, as if wickedly teasing his own false sense of power. Then we see him from far away again, through a crack in the door. You can hardly see him at all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Who Was The Golden Globes-iest Golden Globes Nominee?

Nominations for the 77th Golden Globes were announced Monday. And hey, look! One year after the Hollywood Foreign Press Association failed to nominate a woman for Best Director one year after Natalie Portman memorably, righteously threw a stink bomb right in the middle of an awards announcement when she called out the HFPA for failing to nominate a woman for Best Director the HFPA failed to nominate a woman for Best Director even though, I dunno, like, Marielle Heller, as we’ll get to later this week, did some damn fine directing for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Not that the HFPA (motto: none of you know who any of us are anyway) would ever be contrarian. I don’t mean that as snark. The HFPA would never be contrarian – like, truly, really, honestly. They’re not here to impress their taste upon anybody; they don’t have taste; they’re here to paaaarty!

The Globes, as we remind everyone every single year complaining about what the Globes got “wrong”, like this is a MacArthur Genius Grant (I watched “Marriage Story” too!), are all about hobnobbing and rubbing elbows, not getting things “right”. And that is why, once again, Cinema Romantico is here not to contextualize this set of nominees in any meaningful way but merely to examine them and then determine which Golden Globes nominees is the Golden Globes-iest. It is a pre-awards show award we have deemed The Honorary Meryl Streep HFPA Award, so named for Meryl Streep having been nominated for 77 consecutive Golden Globes because the HFPA always wants her at the party. (Ms. Streep was, of course, nominated this year in the TV category for “Big Little Lies.”)

Nominating Taylor Swift, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber, for Best Original Song for “Beautiful Ghosts”, a new contribution to “Cats”, initially appears pretty Golden Globes-y. I mean, my God, man, it’s “Cats.” This is such excessive pandering, in fact, that it ceases to be festively self-serving and just becomes degrading. We have to eliminate it from consideration.

This is low, even for the HFPA.
The Getting It Wrong faction is likely to pinpoint Todd Phillips for getting a Best Director nomination for “Joker.” I cannot speak to the veracity of his nod because I am deliberately waiting to watch this one some summer night when it’s too hot outside and I have literally nothing else to do. But then, who wants to hang out with Todd Phillips? Dude sounds like a faux-victimized drag. I assume the Golden Globe bar will have too many microbrews for his taste and, gawd, you know, beer being too hoppy now is just another sign of PC culture run amok. No, this nod smells conspicuously like the GGs assuring us they are part of The Discourse. That’s been happening more in recent years and I, for one, am disappointed by it seeing as how it runs afoul of the HFPA’s star-***ing mission statement.

The “Bombshell” nominations are of particular note and speak to the HFPA’s clever nominating strategy. Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie were both nominated for “Bombshell” but Nicole Kidman, her eminence, was not. But that’s because Nicole Kidman was nominated for “Big Little Lies” under the TV umbrella, ensuring all three women are at the party. Had, say, Robbie been nominated for some TV show in where’s she trying to solve a small-town crime then Kidman would have nominated for “Bombshell.” I see you, HFPA!

Undoubtedly Eddie Murphy was nominated so every member of the HFPA could snap a selfie with him, but he is pretty damn good “Dolemite Is My Name” and so that’s not Golden Globes-y. Ditto Awkwafina for “The Farewell.” Everybody wants Awkwafina at the party. I invited Awkwafina to my Christmas party! (Response still pending.) But she’s good and so is “The Farewell.” No, we have to look elsewhere in Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, where Awkwafina was nominated and which, of course, is a category entirely invented to allow for ten Best Actress/Actor spots rather than five to extend more party invitations. And that’s where we find Cate Blanchett in “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”

This was not a well received movie. You will not find this movie nominated for anything by any other voting body. But as the Mia Vicino noted in her “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” review, “The mistake Linklater and team make is putting the should-be-missing Bernadette in nearly every scene, a choice seemingly hinging on the star power and talent of multi-Academy Award winner Blanchett”, essentially describing what the HFPA is doing too. Star power is what counts for everything in our pre-awards show award. You think someone else deserved to be nominated (Elisabeth…cough, cough…Moss) and maybe they should be. But you can’t have the Hollywood Office Christmas Party without Cate. So, here she is. She’s the Golden Globes-iest.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Cinema. Film. Movies. TV.

Seeing a lotta talk on the interwebs about what constitutes cinema, and whether movies are now TV, or vice-versa, and yada yada. Here’s a handy visual guide courtesy of the staff at Cinema Romantico you can always reference when these terms confuse you.





Friday, December 06, 2019

Friday's Hot Toddy: Nostalgic Christmas (2019)

Really, every other Hallmark Channel Christmas movie could be titled “Nostalgic Christmas.” Because even the ones that are not about a career-minded single woman returning to where she’s from and remembering not how good she had it, necessarily, but how empty her current reality is and why it’s probably best for everything to return to the way it was tend to ensconce themselves in nostalgia anyway. Going somewhere different and finding a fresh start in Hallmark-land always feels conspicuously like re-discovering what seemed long gone rather than finding something truly new. That’s why the particulars of “Nostalgic Christmas” don’t matter much, mostly the same-ol’ same-ol’ about a mill that’s about to close and a dad’s shop that needs to get sold, following the blueprint of a hundred Hallmark Holiday movies before it, which, come to think of it, invite nostalgia themselves. And that’s why even if “Nostalgic Christmas” is not an official sequel to Brooke D’Orsay’s “Christmas in Love” (2018), just as “Christmas in Love” was not an official sequel to Brooke D’Orsay’s “Miss Christmas” (2017), they are nevertheless all of a-yuletide-piece.

Though most of “Nostalgic Christmas” takes place in Maine where Anne Garrison (D’Orsay) returns to help her father sell his toy shop specializing in wooden carved items, she comes from New York, the universal emblem of how she needs to exit the rat race and settle down. That is accentuated, as it generally is, by her early leopard-print outfit, code for the Hallmark Whore of Babylon, before transforming to the seasonal standard-issue reds and greens, communicating how the spirit of Christmas is now enveloping her and she is ready to secularly repent. She is spurred along, of course, by the handsome fella who unexpectedly emerges in her life – Keith, in this case, who works at the mill that is on the market which will inevitably cause the whole town to go under.

Keith is played by Trevor Donovan – at least 75% of the time with his hands in his pockets, like he doesn’t know what to do with them – a sort of Channing Tatum-lite who looks less like a mill worker than an L.L. Bean model in a Mill Worker Henley. Then again, the mill itself looks more like the leftover set for Reindeer Lodge. In any event, through a twist hung out to dry because the movie never makes the characters comic foils and because D’Orsay and Donovan are too muted, Anne and Keith wind up in charge of putting on the town’s Christmas pageant. This turn of fate allows all the narrative details to converge, each one stacking the deck in favor of nostalgia.

“It’s not me anymore,” Anne says of small-town Maine. But that’s the thing, all evidence shown throughout “Nostalgic Christmas” suggests that this exactly who she is. No matter how many times she admonishes everyone that she still has a life in New York and will be returning to it promptly, the less convincing it sounds. This isn’t new. These movies rarely sell this supposed tension between Big City and Small Town values because they are so firmly in the latter camp, whether for budgetary or ideological reasons or both. As such, it’s left to the performer to exude that tension and D’Orsay, hearkening back to “Miss Christmas” where she could suitably convey longing for her sweet Chicago home. And yet.

There is a moment when Anne, lightly called on the carpet about her feelings about Trevor after giving him a hug, dismisses that embrace as “A doesn’t mean anything hug of good tidings.” It’s not the line; it’s the line reading; it’s D’Orsay suddenly, comically, incredibly ushering all the character’s supposed insecurities to the forefront and making it feel as if her arc is no longer set in stone but up for grabs. It’s like a Hop Along song where Frances Quinlan’s voice cracks and the tune’s floor gives way and you’re plunged into these astonishing oceanic depths heretofore unknown. “Where did THAT come from?” I literally asked aloud. Alas, as quickly as D’Orsay’s vocal inflection appeared, it was gone, as if she was suddenly plugged back into the matrix.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Gospel of Eureka

“The Gospel of Eureka” is narrated by Justin Vivian Bond, the transgender, trans-genre artist briefly featured in last year’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, in an enticing kind of rasp which, given the documentary’s rural Eureka Springs setting, nestled in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, made me imagine a drag queen on a front porch, or perhaps around a campfire, giving a history lesson as if it was a ghost story. Indeed, despite finding themselves firmly inside the Bible Belt, directors Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri are not exaggerating stereotypes, a la the scourge of post-2016 small town profiles, but challenging them. And they challenged them not by digging deeper but rather, simply, opening their eyes wider to find something apart from Both Sides, that truism inherently dictating not both so much as mine and yours, never mind No Sides, a no borders-ish dreamland. What they find is a mutual kind of compassion, born of a town history that is not ignored nor held up as incontrovertible but informing the place’s gradual forward movement.

That history is encapsulated in the 65 foot high sculpture Christ of the Ozarks, looming over the town, a monument, as Bond explains, conceived of by Gerald L.K. Smith, none other than the America First Party founder who retired to Eureka Springs after preaching fire and brimstone where he also dreamed up the Passion Play that runs several nights a week six months a year. There is rich irony, I suppose, not just in a confirmed bigot wanting to honor the ultimate humanitarian but in one who holed up in a town that eventually became so diverse. “The Gospel of Eureka”, though, shows no interest in documenting just how Eureka came to run on this parallel track, simply accepting the town as it now is, evoked in the Ozark Christ itself, which is turned away from Smith, as Bond notes, and toward Eureka Springs, its arms open, looking forward, not backward.

The Christ of the Ozarks, however, proves no less crucial to the fabric of Eureka than the middle-aged, long-married gay couple Walter Burrell and Gregory Lee Keating, devout Christians who check up on the town’s beloved brutalist statue after it suffers damage during a storm. They also own Eureka Live, lovingly described as a kind of Hillbilly Studio 54, a dance bar where drag queens perform amidst the kind of clientele, glimpsed on the periphery, that would not look out of place at any small-town dive or roadhouse joint. This club emerges as a kind of spiritual sister to Eureka’s Passion Play, an idea which “The Gospel of Eureka” brings to life over its second half.

Drag and the Passion of Jesus Christ sound like obvious contrasts. Mosher and Palmieri, however, are not interested in their opposites, refreshingly, but in transforming these opposing events into a visual and auditory collage, blending and blurring them, cutting between backstage preparations of both, so that the red dye functioning as the blood of Christ becomes interchangeable with the makeup applied by drag queens and a drag queen miming Maren Morris’s “My Church” becomes indistinguishable with a Passion Play sing-along to “Peace in the Valley.” And as the Passion Play winds up with, of course, the Resurrection, “The Gospel of Eureka” connects it to a genuinely sad death of one of Eureka’s own, as well as a vote on a non-discrimination ordinance, the latter becoming a virtual resurrection itself.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Ford v Ferrari

More than likely it was mere coincidence, but Ray McKinnon, in playing Motorsports engineer Phil Remington in James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari”, so closely resembles the late Sam Shepard, in appearance and laconic dialect, that it feels deliberate, a nod to the man who played Chuck Yeager in 1982 “The Right Stuff.” Director Philip Kaufman’s rendering of the Gemini project, after all, was bookended by Yeager, the decline of American individualism the point as much as the race to the moon. And that makes “Ford v Ferrari” something like a spiritual heir to “The Right Stuff” as Ford’s victory in 1966’s 24 Hours at Le Mans auto race is portrayed less in a triumphant light than like the sun setting on rule-breaking self-reliance. Mangold evokes the latter in a shot of auto man extraordinaire Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), whom Ford hires to help win Le Mans, giving an against-the-grain speech at a company event as the sun literally sets behind him, casting fading light through the closed counter of a giant Ford Motor block letter R just over his shoulder.

That’s why the title “Ford v Ferrari” is a misnomer. Though the latter Italian car company is integral, the immovable object that Ford must overcome to earn victory at Le Mans, so too is Ford immovable where its own people are concerned. Though there is an early scene in which Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) stands in his company’s manufacturing hall, his hundreds of laborers below are presented as mere extensions of the Deuce’s ego. No, in Mangold’s telling, “Ford v Ferrari” is a showdown between the smug Ford Suits gathered around a boardroom table and the modern-day cowboys, Carroll and Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British mechanic and driver that Carroll brings on to drive at Le Mans, holding court among themselves at a diner booth.

Carroll literally is a kind of cowboy, sporting a ten-gallon hat, accentuated by Damon’s accent, suggesting an homage to young and utterly unamused Tommy Lee Jones even as Damon allows a little more amusement to shine through, evinced in the grins he often sports when Ken is browbeating him about one thing or another. Indeed, these moments of hectoring underline how Carroll excels at keeping his cool, working his gum as he works out assorted difficult details out in his mind. Ken, on the other hand, is all about ruffling feathers, and that’s how Bale plays him, jutting out his jaw in nearly every scene like he’s daring you – like he’s willing you – to stay something stupid.

Yet if Carroll is a man alone, Ken has a wife and son, who exist mostly to increase those ever-pesky stakes, underlining both a need to support them by making money and what he risks behind the racing wheel. His spouse, Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), is the one who takes a visit from the IRS placing her husband’s repair shop in financial straits, and she’s the one whose entire job kept off screen keeps them afloat, transforming her into nothing more than the traditional cinematic role of Supportive Spouse regardless of Bale and Balf’s convincing give-and-take. Mollie’s most emblematic scene is not really even her scene at all – that is, sitting off to the side in a lawn chair while Carroll and Ken comically brawl.

That dumb machismo is telling: this is movie belongs to the guys, their fixation with cars and its attending language. If Carroll and Ken’s natural dispositions might frequently place them at stubborn odds, they still operate on the same wavelength. In the aftermath of Ken taking a spin in some new souped-up Ford, he and Carroll virtually revel in going over the checklist of where the car goes wrong, a moment where “Ford v Ferrari” shrewdly knows we need not know their code to understand what they’re saying, the sing-song, finishing-each-other-sentences cadence letting us know they are always one step ahead.

Letts gives a magnificent performance as Ford II. Smart enough to know he doesn’t need to do much, he simply looms in most frames, arms crossed and frowning, the camera looking up, before he eventually releases all the air from his turn, demonstrating that even if he is in charge, he gets run by those around him. That includes Carroll, of course, like a magnificently composed sequence where he sits in the middle of Ford II’s office, men looming in front of him and behind him, and yet gleefully, brilliantly plays them all for stooges, metaphorically leaving these lackeys in the dust by earning the boss man’s council over near the window, everyone else dropped from the frame. But it also includes The Deuce’s number two, Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas as a true leech, always looking at the boss out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge his reaction even as he’s guiding him. And Beebe’s ideas for who should drive and how the race should be run all tie back to the “Ford Man” brand, one which Ken’s cavalier image struggles to fit.

No matter how compelling Mangold renders the conflict between corporate and these cowboys, alas, he struggles to elevate the racing scenes. The genuine endurance test nature of Le Mans never comes through, only alluding to Ken’s apparent penchant for warding off sleep with an almost omnipresent tin cup of coffee. The linear editing of the auto races, meanwhile, provides us a crisp, clear-eyed perspective but at the sake of forging a true at-the-wheel point-of-view, failing to get inside Ken’s headspace and visually convey what makes him such a driving genius. Only the opening scene, a flashback to Carroll’s own Le Mans win, embodies his words equating auto racing with “a body moving through space and time” more than a car. As such, the anti-climactic 1966 Le Mans conclusion plays not only like a grudging company man adhering to his contract but a virtuoso threatening to leave us unknowing mortals behind coming back down to Earth.