Ford v Ferrari is a movie that's holding its own with critics and at the box office. In a sea of franchise films and familiar stories, Ford v. Ferrari is a movie that, certainly to most Americans, won't be a well known event, and that's exactly why director James Mangold loves it.
While Ford v. Ferrari is based on a true story, many won't actually be all that familiar with it. If it was a fictional racing movie, we might be able to guess where things are going to go, but in real life, the paths that people take are rarely predictable. Predictability can often be a reason a movie is criticized, and yet, many of the most popular films at the box office are those where we all know exactly what's going to happen. James Mangold much prefers it when he has no idea what is going to happen next. According to the director...
I’m really tired of movies where you know exactly where it’s going and audiences are very mixed about it. Sometimes, when a movie doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, you bitch about it, and you also bitch about the movies where you know exactly where it’s going! The reality is that I’m much more of a fan of the movies where I’m feeling surprised and I’m not seeing just last year’s movie maybe in blue with new people. One of the reasons this movie’s very dear to me is that the studio took a big risk on the movie where there is no best-selling book, there is no superhero, there’s nothing that compels an audience to come.
James Mangold is certainly right in his comments to Slashfilm that studios seem to be hesitant to produce films that aren't anchored by a character or story that audiences are familiar with. There is clearly a desire from studios to go with familiar ideas that are already proven to be successful with audiences. Ford v. Ferrari certainly isn't that.
And Ford v. Ferrari is certainly somewhat surprising. While it's possible you may have known how the story ended, because it is based on actual events, most in the audience likely did not, and the way the battle of the two car companies finally comes to a conclusion is anything but predictable.
The other reason that Ford v Ferrari is a bit unpredictable is that it simply takes its time getting where it's going, and certainly doesn't take a direct route getting there. The movie lets itself spend some time with the characters and lets the audience get to know them and understand them rather than simply driving the plot forward every moment. James Mangold says he appreciates the "circuitousness" of the film.
There certainly is something to be said for the unpredictability of films. While most audiences might appreciate jumping back into a familiar story, part of the excitement of storytelling in general is not knowing how the story ends. Hopefully, we'll start to see a bit more of that on the big screen.