Greetings intrepid moviegoers! Have you ever seen a compelling and heart pounding biopic? Well, buckle your seat belt because you’re in for a heck of a ride!
While on a plane heading back from New York last year I plugged in my bluetooth earbuds and flipped through the catalogue of movies made available. None of the selections caught my interest…until I happened upon Ford v Ferrari.
“Hmm.” I thought. “Looks good. It can’t be bad.” Boy was that an understatement! I loved this film. It is VERY well made. But, what was it about? Let’s jump in!
Well, the film starts off with Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon) driving in an epic race, only for him to awaken to his average life. Shelby is an upbeat type-A automotive designer (and retired racer) who loves cars and people. Shelby appreciates all his employees, customers and fans alike. The retired racer swings by the race track to see one of his more notorious racers, Ken Miles, hurl a wrench at a windshield. Miles (played by Christian Bale) is a quick-tempered, aloof driver with a love for fast cars. Shelby, seeing the chaos Miles is causing, calms him down and Miles goes on to win his race.
Next, we get to see Miles’ relationship with his wife; very passionate (and yes I also mean sexually), dynamic and built on trust. I was utterly convinced they were married because of their excellent chemistry. The two actors play very well off of each other. For instance, we learn that Miles is ignoring their financial problems, which infuriates his wife who resorts to name calling, and hitting. All the while, we see Bale really sell the hidden shame his character feels about lying. Unfortunately, she is infuriated further when Miles begins to race again without telling her.
Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn it wasn’t Miles that kickstarts the plot. Despite being the main focus of the story, it is Voce President pf Ford, Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) who initiates the idea for Ford Motors to buy Ferrari. Iacocca travels to Italy and pitches the deal. The head honcho at Ferrari appears to agree until the deal stipulates that Ferrari not compete in the annual race of Le Mans, which angers Ferrari.
Outraged at this condition, the bosses at Ferrari decline in a very personal insult to Ford Motors punctuated with a final barb in English. Iacocca returns to his superiors with the bad news. Henry Ford II seethes with anger and decides to race against Ferrari at Le Mans. This is personal: Ford Motors’ pride is at stake.
This left me intrigued. I could already predict that Ford would race Ferrari, thus fulfilling the purpose of the title, but what I wanted to know was how they’d get there. I knew that Shelby and Miles would get to Le Mans but I genuinely wanted to see the process unfold.
So, to my delight, and with much seat shifting, I sat back and listened intently. Ford recruited Shelby who in turn recruited Miles. The two would design and drive Ford’s new race car. Miles, unfortunately, insults a high-powered exec. at Ford Motors, Senior Executive Vice President, Leo Beebe. Unfortunately, this mishap would severely cost Miles and Shelby in the long run. I related with Miles’ temper problem (with me being an angsty New Yorker and all) but I couldn’t help but cringe at how comically angry he was all the time.
Our heroes make it to Le Mans, after many trials and errors. Miles raced to his heart’s content and felt an almost transcendent sensation as he allowed the car to cruise through the varied French raceway. He is then asked to slow down and race in unison across the finish line with the other Ford cars. Miles, known for his uncontainable ego actually thinks for a moment and, in a great turn of storytelling, acquiesces. This selfless act costs him and Miles doesn’t place first. While this is not a true defeat, it is a heavy disappointment, and I love how Christian Bale beautifully depicts it. Bale’s character smiles and waves at his comrades while still hanging his head and sighing gently. We can feel his pain and frustration without a single word spoken. I was completely sold by Bale’s performance here.
Miles continues to test drive cars for Ford, and one day during a test drive he doesn’t emerge from his vehicle. His son, shocked and grief-stricken stands there in silence, knowing that he witnessed his father’s last ride. Shelby stops by to visit the boy and his widowed mother months later. To my great surprise, it is Shelby who sheds more tears than they do. We learn that Shelby achieved his racing goals through and with Miles, and more so…Miles was his closest friend.
I loved this movie so much! The drama itself was very enjoyable but at times seemed cartoonish in order to help the film achieve those familiar story beats. Maybe that’s a misstep. Miles is removed from the race but then reinstated by Shelby who, in a very well-done scene, enlists Henry Ford II’s help. Shelby takes the CEO for a ride on the tarmac that leaves him gasping for air. The CEO begins to cry, and I thought he was just a big pansy who couldn’t handle speed. But, to my delighted surprise the film took that in another direction; Henry Ford II cried because he was happy; he loved the amazing car that Shelby had designed and only wished that his father could see this achievement.
That touching scene hit me right in the chest. I, having recently lost my father, connected with that otherwise greedy CEO. I could relate to his pain: wanting to achieve a dream and wanting my father to be there to witness it only for that to never happen.
In addition to the stellar acting, the film boasts superb lighting, cinematography and audio All the colors, hues and sounds serve to highlight the tone for each scene. Outside Miles’ homes we are hit with bright yet humbler colors that tell us that this is not where the action is. Contrarily, we are bombarded by bright salient colors and uproarious chatter and roaring engines at Le Mans; the dark hues signify dread and uncertainty while the bright blue sky and light shades of white and grey tell us it is a happy moment.
The whole film feels like a classic epic and a modern spectacle. The characters, colors, sounds and camera shots are all larger than life and yet so…relatable.
This film is filled with poignant moments as well. From Ken Miles sacrificing first place to Henry Ford II crying tears of joy, they hit you right in the gut and make you…feel something.
It is moments like these that live on with me; moments like these that remind me that cinema is something so much more than a moving picture; it is a mirror of life itself. Cinema can convey life’s greatest joys, its biggest frustrations, its sadness and the highest levels of tension attainable.
In summary, I loved Ford v Ferrari and I think the acting and gorgeous cinematography elevate it to a class of its own. This isn’t just a good movie it is a great movie. I rank this easily as one of my top twenty films of all time. Ford v Ferrari does seem to suffer from being overdramatic at times, but it successfully tells the story of ambition and dreams against a backdrop of ego and high-octane sports.
I give Ford v Ferrari an 86% approval rating. I don’t like how long the film is and I don’t care for some scenes that leaned heavy in the melodrama with Miles’ character. Besides these small issues I have nothing but love for this high-octane sports drama.
Thanks for reading.