Ford v Ferrari: Movie Review

Was it a tad long? Yes.

Am I the target audience? Absolutely not.

Did I somehow thoroughly enjoy the film? 100% Yes. 

I think we can all agree that the target demographic for this film is undeniably our dads (just as for 1917 it is our granddads). So why did my friend and I, both of whom are in our early twenties, enjoy this film so much? And no, it is not JUST because it stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale—that may have been a (major) factor in getting us to the theater, but that isn’t what made us stay and watch.

Ford v. Ferrari is a period drama that follows famed car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they fight the corporate suits—and each other—to build Ford Motor Co. a racecar that will beat Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. 

What shattered my expectations was how the film wasn’t just about fast cars and asserting that American made muscle cars are superior to foreign sports cars. I mean, there was certainly a fair share of that action taking place through subliminal and not-so-subliminal messaging, but, at its core, Ford v. Ferrari is about the characters Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles and his family. It is about the universal desire to be our best, to constantly push ourselves and redefine what best means; it is about being the underdog and coming out on top not due to favors or cheating or connections but due to personal grit and perseverance.  

This film could’ve easily been a quasi-historical Fast and Furious flick if not for director James Mangold’s deft balancing of sport and heart, taking care to make the film about far much more than unbridled patriotism or the thrill of listening to a speeding car zoom around a track for two hours.

On a more critical note, let’s be real: this film is an allegory for the United States’s insatiable need to be better than everyone else that also gives into the ease of making the woman hysterical. If I’m not mistaken, there’s exactly one female role in the film of any significance, and that is Ken Miles’s wife, Mollie. There is a scene where Mollie and Ken are driving (Ken is shotgun), and when she suspects Ken is hiding something from her, she starts speeding their Station Wagon like it’s in the final lap at Daytona. All this chaos ends with her in a state of near-tears and screaming. While her underlying concern that Ken was possibly hiding something is understandable, the way she was written to react was more so an overreaction. This scene led me to wonder: Where are the women? Obviously, this is a dude-centered film intended for other dudes, but of the women who were included, they barely got to speak, and Mollie’s most memorable scene is one where she is grossly overreacting. With this exception, I otherwise thought that Mollie’s character was witty and personable, and I wish she had more screen time. 

And somehow by the end of this film, one which I thought would have little substantive value beyond tires screeching and lots of vroom vrooms, my friend and I were in tears (and I didn’t even cry watching 1917…). I won’t spoil why we were crying, but let’s suffice it to say Damon and Bale paid great attention to developing their characters beyond stock images of what a racecar driver is supposed to be like—they developed their characters beyond a persona on the screen and instead molded them into real people, people we came to appreciate and care for. I think this demonstrates that even stories with built-in audiences like this film can become widely appealing when due time and respect is spent on the script developing characters we can root for even during their flawed moments.

P.S. I would just like to say that as a result of this film, seeing or hearing any images or references of a wrench will bring me to tears. Thank you for your understanding during this troubling time.