Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.
I make no bones about the fact that I do not care at all about sports in any stripe. It’s been a number of years since I have cared about sports; I’ve found that I don’t miss them at all, and not paying any attention to them hasn’t made my life any worse. Oh, I suppose I miss listening to a game on the radio sometimes, but I honestly can’t be bothered. There was a time when I was a sports fan, though. I lived and died with the Bears and Bulls, and would happily listen to a White Sox or Blackhawks game in the evening. But even when I was a fan of sports in general, I didn’t care at all about auto racing of any stripe. This made Ford v Ferrari a film I can’t say I was excited to watch.
My problem with racing is that I just don’t find it interesting. I’ve had plenty of people try to explain it to me—I know on a very real level that it’s more than just being fast. I realize that despite it looking like a contest about who has the best car that there’s a great deal of technique, strategy, and skill involved. I worked with a guy years ago who loved playing racing games on the computer. He would spend hours tweaking his car and running test laps; he’d make minor adjustments and run lap after lap to pinpoint the car for the specific track, eventually run the race, and then do exactly the same thing for the next track. I mean, good on him for having that interest, but I absolutely don’t have the inclination, the patience or the mind for it, either in the virtual world or the real world.
Ford v Ferrari is very much a racing movie through and through. We begin with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), one of the few Americans to win the 24-hour race at Le Mans. Shelby is forced out of racing because of a dodgy heart—getting his heart rate above 130 beats/minute is potentially fatal to him, so he moves into car sales and production. The Ford Mustang Shelby GT5000 is evidence that he was pretty good at that side of the business.
Shelby works with a mechanic/driver named Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who has his own money troubles, which force him out of racing. Meanwhile, Ford, headed by Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is facing slumping sales. Ford VP Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes that Ford purchase Ferrari, a merger that would give Ford 90% of the manufacturing and Ferrari 90% of the racing business. Ferrari isn’t interested, though, and uses Ford’s attempted merger to bump its price in a sale to Fiat, and tells Ford to go piss up a rope in no uncertain terms. Hearing this, Henry Ford II decides that he wants nothing more than to destroy Ferrari in racing competitions. And thus Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca, Ken Miles, and Carroll Shelby all come together to take down Ferrari.
The bulk of the movie consists of several different stories. First, there is in-fighting in the racing team, specifically between Miles and Shelby against Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), who is placed in charge of the racing team and who has animus against Ken Miles. Second, we have some moments of dealing with the car and the issues with the car. Third, we have a lot of racing.
I don’t want to hide the fact that there are some very good scenes in Ford v Ferrari. One of the better ones happens when Shelby is told that Beebe is going to demand that Ken Miles be removed as a driver from the team. In response, Shelby locks him inside his office and takes Henry Ford II for a drive in the race car. At the end of the drive, Ford breaks down, unable to speak, and when he finally is, he comments that he wishes his grandfather could have been there to see what has been accomplished. It’s a great moment, and a very real one.
Naturally, though, a lot of the movie is racing, and a great deal of it is specifically the 24-hour race at Le Mans. Not to repeat myself too much, but while I see the inherent drama in something like a very long race with all of the strategies and problems and issues, I also find it very difficult to care a great deal about it. I get the strategy. I get the idea that so much of this is about testing the limits of a machine that is in many ways experimental and testing the limits of the people who are driving those machines. But I also really don’t care that much. I want to, but I don’t.
Because of this, like it or not, Ford v Ferrari is always going to feel like a movie where I don’t care about a great deal of the drama. I like the people well enough, and the performances are excellent. This is one of those films that has two potential Best Actor nominations (Damon and Bale) and several possible Supporting Actor nominations in Tracy Letts and Jon Bernthal, but got none. I don't want to overstate this, but it might be the most entertaining Bale has ever been on screen. Was it robbed? Was he robbed? Maybe, but then again, I’m not sure I’d rank it as a legitimate Best Picture contender. It’s good, it’s beautiful, and I can’t fault just how well it is filmed, but I just don’t care at all about cars going fast.
Why to watch Ford v Ferrari: The underlying story is an interesting one.
Why not to watch: If you don’t like racing, there’s a lot here that won’t thrill you.