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Review by Joel Bourgeois
Let’s get this one thing straight: there’s nothing magical about 7000 rpm. I own an Infiniti G37 that redlines at 7500 rpm and I’ve been over 7000 rpm a couple of times. Nothing special happened. In fact, it's usually when I'm trying to get on the freeway and the automatic gearbox shifted down a gear lower than I wanted, and when it gets there, there is nothing special about the crank turning 7000 times a minute. It’s just some metal connected to some other metal connected to rubber that touches the tarmac and propels the metal cage you’re sitting in down the road. But maybe what the filmmakers mean when they say, "There’s a point at 7,000 rpm where everything fades," is that pushing a Ford GT40 to 7000 rpm, on a racetrack, with the skill of a Le Mans-winning driver, is the best thing in the world. I would probably agree with that, and I'll get back to you if I ever get to experience it.
If it’s not apparent from the above paragraph and from my bio, I am a pretty big car guy. That being said, I don’t know tons of automotive history, nor do I follow racing. But even with my limited knowledge, I recognize the names Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), and Bruce McLaren (Ben Rigby). I did not know the name Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Now I do. And if there’s only one good thing that comes from Ford v Ferrari, it’s that his story has been told. It wasn’t Carroll Shelby or Bruce McLaren, and (most certainly not) Henry Ford II that gave Ford the victory in the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans, it was Ken Miles. That’s the man to whom Ferrari tips his hat, and that’s the man who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for those wins, of which every American should be proud.
Don’t let the above fool you into thinking that the only good thing about Ford v Ferrari is that it tells the story of a formerly unsung American hero. That’s just the best thing that it does: the objective moral Goodness that it brings about and that the FilmFisher ethos has me champion first and foremost. But it’s not the only good thing. There were many times during the film when I was grinning ear to ear. I couldn’t help it. There’s a lot of good-natured, gasoline-powered fun to be had, but that’s not all there is either. It’s a very human film. The characters are there, fleshed-out with flaws and quirks. Ken has anger issues and doesn’t put up with stupidity (we have a lot in common). Shelby has to deal with external issues, namely his inability to continue his racing career in the driver’s seat due to heart problems. Together, the two friends make some progress towards overcoming these problems throughout the course of the film – and it happens slowly and naturally. This isn’t just another Hollywood based-on-true-life-events feel-good story, it’s one that features actual human beings, not Hallmark-manufactured robots that look convincingly similar to real humans.
Apart from being a more adept based-on-true-events story than the majority of films in that genre, Ford v Ferrari is archetypal without being overly cliched or bombastic. While the title would suggest the story’s main antagonist to be Enzo Ferrari, it is in fact Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), a Ford executive, that gives our leading men the most trouble. And it doesn’t just take the simple “businessmen are bad” approach either. Lee Ioacocca is the bridge between Ford and Shelby that gets the plot moving. Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari take a more neutral position in regards to plot. Yes, this film is titled after them, but it is ultimately about Carroll and Ken overcoming their own obstacles. The goal of beating Ferrari becomes a kind of path to transcendence that each man – Shelby and Miles – must work towards simultaneously to achieve. The pair travels into the underworld of Ford Motor Company bureaucracy to get to that final race together, vanquishing the other teams at Le Mans as Nordic warriors who had reached the halls of Valhalla.
Despite the promise of character development and primal archetypal themes glossed in a carbureted 20th-century veneer, Ford v Ferrari is merely a good film, not a great one. While all the surface elements are there, there is hardly any depth to the film, emotional or thematic. Some scenes do not play very well, specifically those involving Miles and his son, Peter (Noah Jupe). Apart from telling me that he has a son and that they have a good relationship, every scene with Ken and Peter adds nothing further to the story and falls flat emotionally. Considering the rather long 152-minute runtime of the film, it would be preferable if some of their scenes were cut.
I am glad this film exists. While it may not be great cinema, it is worth seeing. If there is one movie your family should see together this Thanksgiving, it is Ford v Ferrari – provided everyone in the family is okay with the PG-13 rating (language, intense moments). If nothing else, this film is a delightful tribute to endurance racing (one of the most demanding sports in the world) at a time when the cars were at their most beautiful. I mean, look at these rivals. Aren’t they beautiful?
- Release DateNovember 15, 2019