I know nothing about cars or racing. However, I noted the positive reviews and Oscar nominations for Ford v Ferrari, so when the movie popped up in the dollar theatre, I was willing to give it a shot. I went to see it with my dad, who also has no interest in racing, but trusts my taste in movies. It turned out to be a pleasant Sunday matinee.
After Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) gets his ego gets bruised by Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), the American industrialist decides to build a car to win the famous Le Mans race. He enlists Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who agrees to build a winning car if he can have Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as his driver. However, when Ken Miles rubs the advertising department the wrong way, the vice president tries to have him removed. Battling both technical problems and bureaucratic impediment, the two men work together to try to win the Le Mans ’66.
If Ford v Ferrari did nothing else, it taught me an appreciation of racing. I had thought that the race car builder and the race car driver were separate jobs, but the two overlapped quite a bit. For example, Carroll Shelby, the builder of the car, did actually drive the Le Mans race--it’s what drew Ford Company to him. Ken Miles worked a day job as a mechanic and offered valuable feedback and suggestions for the design of the car.
The movie also gave me a new perspective of why races might be popular, necessary even. The Le Mans race was, in this case, a test of the engineering of the car and the skill of the driver. Such a test means pushing the boundaries. Every setback, every problem, every solution that brought up a brand new problem, all led to that glorious moment where all that hard work came together to show off something new.
(Warning: While there are no explicit spoilers, I am going to discuss some of the themes that occur throughout the movie. Some spoilers may be implied, if you read between the lines.)
Ford v. Ferarri is also about integrity and friendship. It is about the trust the two men had in each other and their willingness to put themselves risk at risk to achieve their goal. For Ken Miles, the risk is physical, as driving is shown to be extremely, viscerally dangerous. But Shelby puts his reputation and even his own company on the line in support of Miles. They both willingly take these risks because they trust the other one to have their backs.
This friendship, at its core, is what get them to Le Mans. Henry Ford can throw all the money and resources he wants at them, but in the end, everything down to the collaboration between two very passionate individuals. I find that inspiring and hopeful. As an independent artist, I sometimes long to have all these corporate resources--but is that really what causes innovation? Does it create excellence? Ford v Ferrari seemed to argue, you don’t need hundreds of people to enact change--just two.
In fact, Ford, with all his money and resources, turns out to be a hindrance to their goal. In theory, we were meant to root for Ford, the American company, but the man comes across as egocentric and inconsistent. Henry Ford is surrounded by sycophants, basically leeching of the talents of other men and the fortune of his grandfather. It's actually Ferrari who comes across the more respectable one, for he has a great love of the sport and is interested in crafting quality cars. It's Ferrari's respect that means something. It's Ferrari's respect that Henry Ford craves. However, as the movie shows, respect cannot be bought. Those who put in the work will be acknowledged by their true peers, no matter who's name is on the winner's cup.
Sometimes I struggled with a sense of cultural dissonance. Between the dealings of a giant corporation, the race, and the 1960s setting, it felt very much like a boy’s club, and there were times their way of thinking just clashed with my own. What got me, I think, was the toxic competitiveness, this all-or-nothing mentality and these games of petty one-upmanship. Sometimes I wanted to say, “It’s just a race. Chill out. Get your priorities in order.”
I'm pretty competitive myself, and I understand that competition can drive you beyond your boundaries. But to me, competition is a game. It's fun. It's motivating. But it's not cooperation, not competition, that allows you to actually to build something meaningful. It's cooperation that has always helped me to survive.
I would have prefer the movie ended when the race ended. To me, that was the perfect conclusion. All the themes I've been writing about were solidified at the race's end: respect, cooperation versus competition, friendship. The denouement muddled things and the very last scene landed with an inelegant thud.
But this is just a petty quibble. I thought Ford v. Ferrari was entertaining and fun. My dad enjoyed it, too. It turned out that he knew something about the business drama going on at Ford at the time, and when Lee Iacocca (John Bernthal) made an appearance, Dad whispered loudly about how this marketing executive was the Steve Jobs of his day. My dad said he would have paid full price to see it in theatres, which is the highest compliment he can give a movie.
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