I wasn’t sure “Ford v. Ferrari” was going to be up my alley. I’m not much of a car person, and a run time of more than two and a half hours seemed pretty daunting. Not as daunting as Martin Scorcese’s “The Irishman,” of course, but it’s nearly three hours of sitting in theater seats.
But, the more I heard about the film, the more curious I became. It helped that my boyfriend grew up in a Ford family, his grandfather serving as an engineer on Ford’s racing program during the time frame the film is set. So, this past Sunday, we set out with his mom to see the film that’d piqued our interest.
It stars Christian Bale as legendary English race car driver and engineer Ken Miles, and the film tells the story of when Ford Motor Company decided to create a race car in the 1960s that could win the 24-hour Le Mans race in France. They’re determined to beat Ferrari, which has won the race for the past five years. To make this happen, Ford enlists the help of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a Le Mans winner and racing legend, whose time on the track is done due to a health issue.
Shelby agrees, but he knows he can’t do it alone and goes to Miles for help. The latter has a reputation for being extremely difficult, but he’s one of the best there is. The offer comes when Miles needs it most. The IRS has seized his garage, his wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) is working extra hours and his son Peter (Noah Jupe) is wide-eyed and adoring of everything Miles does. Helping Ford build a race car comes with a price tag of $200 a day, an offer he can’t refuse. Plus, he’s told he’ll be behind the wheel of this shiny new toy.
“Ford v. Ferrari” isn’t just a car movie. It’s a tale of family, friendship and corporate greed. It’s about red tape, superficiality and the price we’re willing to pay for greatness. Make no mistakes, Ford is not the hero of this film. We watch Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) treat employees like garbage, and Ford VP Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) smarm his way to the top, stepping on and backstabbing whoever he needs to in order to get ahead. Ford is truly a villain in the film.
I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t aware of the Ford/Ferrari showdown or the particulars of the story until this movie. I didn’t know about Shelby American or the fact Carroll Shelby was the mastermind behind the Mustang Cobra. I definitely wasn’t familiar with Ken Miles, which is a shame, because if he was anywhere near as interesting as Bale makes him out to be I’d love to know more.
The chemistry between Bale and Damon is a lot of fun to watch. Bale is fun to watch, period. Once again, he transforms physically for a role. His last role had him packing on 40 pounds to play former vice president Dick Cheney in “Vice,” but his turn as Miles has him extra thin. But, Bale’s range extends beyond the scale. As Miles, he’s a powder keg ready to blow.
The real Ken Miles was notably difficult to work with. He was a brilliant engineer and an amazing driver. He was also a tragic figure who had one of his greatest racing wins stolen from him and met a violent death.
All in all, “Ford v. Ferrari” delivers as a “car” movie. For a motor enthusiast, there’s a lot to love here. It offers an in-depth look at what it takes to create a winning race car, from brake systems to weight to ensuring the correct height off the ground. Miles, Shelby and their crew examine every nook and cranny, pivoting after mistakes and adjusting where necessary.
It’s also an examination of what it takes to be a champion race car driver. Even with a magnificent car, the driver and his skill are what wins the race. The Le Mans sequence is lengthy, but that length is likely necessary to truly give the audience the full experience of a race that lasted 24 hours, day and night, rain or shine.
“Ford v. Ferrari” is so much more than a car movie, though. While I might have grown a bit leery at the length of the movie or its race sequences, I loved learning about the man at the heart of this story: Ken Miles. I truly enjoyed watching his friendship with Shelby, his relationship with Mollie and his complete utter lack of caring whether he was a people person. It’s a film that transcends its pedigree and emerges as something much more profound, one that I would proudly recommend to all, even people who originally were apprehensive like myself.