“Ford v Ferrari”: A Review

Most likely, I was one of the few racing fans remaining on the planet that had not seen Ford v Ferrari, by the time we watched it last weekend. The film was released in theaters back in November. For the past three months, I had people that knew I was a race fan telling me what a great movie this was. I also saw where true racing fans were praising it as well, so I knew that it had to be good.

Susan and I set a goal to go see it in a theater over Christmas. We rarely go to movies these days. While I love seeing films on the big screen; the rude crowds, the expensive concessions and the sticky floors have run me off. With the advancements of giant TVs, blu-ray players and home surround-sound systems, it’s hard to get me into a theater these days. Such was the case with Ford v Ferrari.

The idea of me critiquing a movie is comical. When the nominations for Best Picture come out every year, I’m lucky to have seen one of them. Invariably, the one that I’ve seen doesn’t stand a chance against those films that are loved by the high-brow Hollywood elitists. This year’s winner for Best Picture is a good example. Parasite was lauded as a film for the ages. It’s a Korean film done in subtitles. I’ve never seen it and probably never will. But Susan saw it. She is a lot more open-minded about films, and she thought it was a very bizarre film. If she says it’s bizarre – it is. Trust me.

My point is my idea of a great movie probably doesn’t align with most of today’s critics. Most people use the tag “genius” to describe Director Quentin Tarantino. I use other tags to describe him. Words like “strange”, “nut-job” and “kook” come to mind. I think he makes such strange movies that pretentious people are afraid to say they don’t get his films. So they praise them, lest they come off as a lowbrow. His movies are like the Seinfeld episode when Elaine didn’t understand a cartoon in the New Yorker. No one else got it either, but they instead gave it praise out of fear they would appear to be a moron.

I’ll freely admit, I like movies that end the way I want them to. While it may be more fiction than reality, I’ve always liked the movie Rudy. But don’t confuse that to mean that I like sappy movies. I like movies like The Shawshank Redemption, and The Godfather is probably my all-time favorite movie. So you could say my taste in films is all over the map.

I’m not a fan of the overuse of computer-generated imagery (CGI) for special effects. I recently saw the film Midway. While the story-line was good and it was fairly historically accurate – I found the overuse of CGI to be completely distracting and the over-the-top graphics took away from my enjoyment of the film. It was like watching a video game being played within a movie. I don’t need to see a bomb drop from the point-of-view of the bomb. Why would they do that? This falls under the category of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.

I mention this because I was afraid this was going to be the case with Ford v Ferrari. I was wrong.

I found Ford v Ferrari to be one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen come out of Hollywood in a very long time. Only once did I see an obvious use of CGI that didn’t look real. I’m sure they used it extensively, but they did a masterful job of integrating it in with shots of actual cars.

But there was a lot more to this film than a good use of special effects. The screenplay was well written and the movie flowed very well. The film lasts for about two and a half hours, but you’d never know it. There was not one time when it dawned on me that the movie was slow.

The acting was superb. Matt Damon was very believable as Carroll Shelby. Being a southerner, I usually loathe hearing a fake southern accent – Dan Aykroyd in Driving Miss Daisy comes to mind. That holds the record for being the worst fake southern accent of all time. Matt Damon has never been accused of being a southerner. I don’t even know if he ever lived in the southern part of Boston, but he had one of the best southern accents I’ve heard in films, when you knew it wasn’t natural. He perfected Shelby’s Texas drawl to the point that I had to remind myself that it wasn’t genuine.

The actors who portrayed Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca and Leo Beebe were all very good. But in my opinion, the actor who carried this film was Christian Bale, who portrayed the legendary Ken Miles. He was superb! Susan had never heard of Ken Miles, but by the end of the film – she was a Ken Miles fan. <Spoiler Alert> She was visibly upset when he was fatally injured near the end of the film, because she wasn’t expecting it. I was.

Ford v Ferrari was nominated for Best Picture, but it didn’t win – as usual. But it was a phenomenal motion picture. It tells the story of the global rivalry between Ford and Ferrari, which culminates with the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans. This is the rare racing film which appeals to racing fans and non-racing fans alike. If racing fans like a racing movie, it is usually too technical or hard-core to appeal to non-racing fans. If the non-fans like it, that means the script is full of fluff and it usually has really nothing to do with racing. Ford v Ferrari strikes that magical balance where it appeals to both.

I will admit that I was vaguely familiar with the story, but I would never call myself an expert on Ford’s rivalry with Ferrari in the early to mid-sixties. I certainly knew all about Carroll Shelby and I was familiar with Miles. Those that were experts may pick holes in the movie, but I knew just enough about it to love the film. Susan knew absolutely nothing about the story, and she absolutely loved the film.

Ford v Ferrari was released for home viewing on Feb 11. I’m still old-school enough where I like having hard-copies of movies that I like. I suspected I was going to like this film, so I bought the blu-ray without even seeing it first. But I’m sure you can also watch through whatever pay streaming device or service you use or even Red Box. I still miss Blockbuster.

I highly encourage anyone to watch Ford v Ferrari, but if you are a motorsports fan, it should be required viewing. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

George Phillips

8 Responses to ““Ford v Ferrari”: A Review”

  1. It’s an excellent film. Another one that appeals to both racing and non-racing fans is The Art of Racing in the Rain. It’s not a dedicated racing movie per se, but it’s full of cool cars and real racing footage from IMSA and F1 and racing underpins the whole story. It’s a little sappy, and very emotional, but the story is excellent and the ending has probably my favorite car scene in all of cinema. It was a passion project of Patrick Dempsey who is a true racer and he did it justice. Warning: it may elicit a few tears, and that’s ok.

    Pulp Fiction is still one of the best movies ever made. 🙂

  2. If you haven’t read the book Go Like Hell, I recommend 6as a companion piece to Ford vs. Ford . Ferrari.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I thought Ford v Ferrari really shined when it brought us into the mechanical pursuit of racing, not through detailed technical specs but through the people tasked with winning the mechanical war for Ford against Ferrari. The mechanical aspect of racing in most racing films is typically embodied by a crew chief/mechanic character, but that characters contribution to the racing competition is rarely shown, it is usually taken as a given of their character’s existence. This film not only includes this kind of character, it includes multiple characters involved in the mechanical pursuit, and it weaves an entertaining narrative about their pursuit by making us care about the stakes of the competition. Particularly unique for a racing film, it shows us the contributions of the driver (typically portrayed as the daredevil pilot… of a car that matters to someone else) to the off-track aspects of racing competition.

    Because of this angle, Ford v Ferrari probably owes more to films about the space race than it does most racing films and it is a better film for showing us more than just the on-track competition and non-racing related drama that make up most racing films.

  4. Talón de Brea Says:

    While not quite a “high-brow Hollywood elitist,” I know a lot about films — but I’m even more of a “highbrow auto racing elitist,” especially regarding sports car racing in the period portrayed in this movie … and in my opinion Ford v Ferrari gets the job done quite well.

    Yes, there are some exaggerations and some changes for dramatic effect (a video game crash sequence, Enzo Ferrari attending Le Mans and melodramatically glaring at Shelby, Ken Miles dueling with Walt Hansgen to narrowly take the 24 Hours of Daytona – when in fact Miles and Lloyd Ruby finished eight laps ahead of second-place Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant, with Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue in third … I know, a geeky comment). And yes, in the interest of focus on the heart of the drama, Shelby and Miles get their due – yet it’s (a little) frustrating to see the incredible stories of John Surtees, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, etc. relegated to the deep background. But I get it – it’s a movie that can’t be about *everything*, not an eight-hour mini-series.

    In terms of its drama (I agree with the comment that it was like a depiction of the space program … same period in American history, after all … like a chapter of The Right Stuff), I was reminded of some of the films of famed Hollywood director and Hoosier native Howard Hawks, who directed many entertaining films across different genres – some classics. He loved things that went fast, and was keenly interested in aviation and auto racing. While I highly recommend his comedies such as Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, he was also known for his dramas featuring strong-willed, often conflicting personalities confronting difficult situations: again, His Girl Friday, but also The Big Sleep, Red River, Rio Bravo, to name some of the most prominent.

    All of this is a roundabout way of highly praising Ford v Ferrari. While I was very aware that actors were portraying actual figures, even as I watched I was aware that Shelby and Miles benefitted from strong “movie star” performances from two accomplished actors.

    Thanks, George, for your review of Ford v Ferrari. To return to the general IndyCar topic of your blog: According to a Googled reference in a 1998 column by Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune, Howard Hawks “helped build the car that won the 1936 Indianapolis 500.” Also, Hawks directed the 1932 film The Crowd Roars, credited as being the first film to include the Indianapolis 500 (and later remade as Indianapolis Speedway in 1939). According to Dawn Mitchell in 2017 in the Indy Star, rivers Billy Arnold, Ralph Hepburn, Wilbur Shaw, Stubby Stubblefield and Harry Hartz were cast as themselves in The Crowd Roars.

  5. although Christian Bale is a — “strange”, “nut-job” and “kook” — person, his acting is superb. i can believe he actually is
    the person depicted on-screen. just like Marlon Brando
    in the Godfather.

  6. you are correct, and i wasn’t clear.
    anyway…what i should have typed was:
    “….–person, just like Quentin Tarantino, his acting…”

  7. Tarantino Pulp Fiction My 12yo son conned me into seeing it. We saw it twice. Once Ubon A Time In Hollywood. Nuff said. Christian Bales The Fighter you can see both on your couch my friend.

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