When I went to see Ford v Ferrari--starring Matt Damon and Christopher Bale--I expected to see a non-stop action thriller...and I did, but there is more. Much, much more. This movie is a well-crafted, high-octane drama that exhibits the best of what Hollywood can do. It is a very “American” movie that exhibits the best of what “American” means.
Matt Damon plays Carrol Shelby, a retired race car driver with a heart problem, and Christopher Bale plays Ken Miles, a brilliant race car driver with an ego problem. They’ve had a stormy/broken relationship, but they are brought together once again because the Ford Motor Company wants to win the race at Le Mans.
Many movies would’ve been satisfied with just the tension between provided by the race, but Ford vs Ferrari is not content with that. Dramatic tension comes in from multiple levels.
Ford wants to win at Le Mans, but there is a lack of knowledge as to what is required to do that. While they have tremendous experience in the mass manufacture of automobiles--as well as war vehicles as Henry Ford II points out--they don’t have all that much real experience in working with the people who drive high performance vehicles. (Ford is brought up to speed on this in a memorable scene that I will not spoil for you.) This brings tension between the Ford Executives and the race team.
Miles is an important part of the racing team, but, as skillful as he is with driving, he lacks patience in dealing with people who do not understand racing cars as well as he does, and he lacks the skills necessary in hiding that impatience. This brings tension between him and Shelby as Shelby works both ends between Miles and the Ford Executives.
Both Miles and the Ford Executives believe they are right. The irony is they both are, but they have different objectives. Miles objective is simple: He wants to win car races. The Ford Executives have objectives that are more complex: They want to sell more cars, and winning car races is a means to that end. Shelby is a facilitator who provides the oil that helps these two high pressure parts from grinding to a halt.
One of the aspects of the movie that makes it American in the sense I used before is its love of individual resourcefulness over corporate overkill. This is made perfect in a scene where the corporate engineers have loaded down the race car with a heavy computer to see how to improve performance. Miles makes them strip that computer out and to replace it with strips of wool attached to the car with tape. It is realistic that, when this is done, the engineers themselves respect the elegance of this approach.
It is in our nature to want the individual David to beat the corporate Goliath. We root for the underdog. But it brings to mind a discussion I had earlier this week about warriors versus soldiers. An individual warrior might beat an individual soldier because of the warrior’s individual skill, but the soldier’s side will win, because he is part of a team. This is the great appeal of this movie to me: It highlights the struggles I experience as I try to excel as an individual with my own goals while I am a part of a larger entity that has not only my goals, but goals of its own to pursue, or, rather, as I stand as an intermediary between such.
Good performances are turned in by all the supporting cast--and by Damon and Bale as well--but especially by Caitriona Balfe, who plays Miles’ wife Mollie, and Noah Jupe, who plays his son Peter. The wife and the son provide audience surrogates who make the prickly Miles into a much more sympathetic character.
If you are into drama, it is one hell of a ride.
—Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )