By M.V. Moorhead
Despite its promising stars and director, I admit that I dragged my feet a little when it came to seeing Ford v Ferrari. This wasn’t because of the film’s formidable 21⁄2-hour running time.
Nor was it because of my lifelong lack of interest in auto racing, and in movies about auto racing.
My reluctance where Ford v Ferrari was concerned was more parochial than that. In the rural America where I grew up, a partisan alignment with one automotive company over the others—and in opposition to them—was regarded, at times, more like a political affiliation or even a religious denomination than mere brand loyalty.
And I grew up in a Chevy household. My father, far less fanatical than many of his neighbors on such matters, was known in his later years to wear a cap reading “I’D RATHER PUSH A CHEVY THAN DRIVE A FORD.”
Even though I was largely indifferent to cars and car culture, my eventual understanding
of Henry Ford—his notorious antisemitism, Hitler’s shout-out to him in Mein Kampf—and of
his company: the Pinto scandal of the ‘70s and other safety and environmental shortcuts in the years since—gave me no reason to question my Dad’s wisdom in this matter.
And the title suggested that I would be asked to root for Ford.
The movie dramatizes the efforts, in the mid-‘60s, by sports car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race driver and mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to develop the Ford GT40, with the hope of defeating Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This was a marketing strategy by the young Lee Iacocca (John Bernthal) to jazz up the flagging Ford’s staid middle-American image with younger customers.
But it became, at least according to the film, a vengeful mission after Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) insults Ford during an abortive attempt to acquire the Italian company.
I needn’t have worried.
The film makes Ford look bad. Henry Ford II is amusingly played by Tracy Letts as a thin-skinned, blustering, blubbering buffoon, perennially in his father’s shadow.
And one of his executives, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), is presented here as a toadying, conniving weasel. The company is depicted as at least as much the antagonists to Shelby and Miles as their Ferrari rivals are.
As to the degree to which any of this is accurate or fair, your guess is as good as mine and quite possibly better, but since it didn’t ask me to cheer on Ford, my lifelong conditioning was satisfied.
Beyond that, Ford v Ferrari is a well-acted, well-executed racing drama. This is a genre for which I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm. Having admitted that, I can also say that the long-underrated director
James Mangold got fine performances from, along with the caricatured Ford execs, Damon, as the unflappably diplomatic Texan Shelby; Bale as the barking, explosive Brit Miles; Caitriona Balfe as the patient Mrs. Miles; and Noah Jupe as his adoring son.
Did the picture really need to be quite so long? I’d say maybe not, but there are probably motor-heads in the audience who wouldn’t want a single gearshift or tire-squeal omitted, and even non-car buffs can enjoy the rich ‘60s period detail and atmosphere.
And when we finally get to the Mad-Max-like mayhem of Le Mans, there’s no denying that Mangold’s direction makes it an exciting ride.
Ford v Ferrari is rated PG-13 and plays at Harkins Tempe Marketplace, Harkins Chandler Fashion 20, Harkins Arizona Mills and other multiplexes Valleywide.