Will we celebrate
petrol-guzzling car-racing films thirty years from now?
Perhaps the only
sport where catching on fire is a possibility, the hardscrabble attempt by the
Ford Motor Company to beat Ferrari in the ‘1966 24 Hours of Le Mans’ endurance
race is captured with exuberance in James Mangold’s sports-drama, Ford v Ferrari.
The pressures faced
to increase vehicle sales following an unprecedented financial slump finds
Henry Ford II, then CEO of Ford (Tracy Letts), recruit Carroll Shelby (Matt
Damon), a previous Le Mans winner turned car designer, and Ken Miles (Christian
Bale), a perpetually difficult yet fabulously British racer, to build a car
capable of dethroning Ferrari from top of the podium. With Ford having never
competed in Le Mans proving an already big enough challenge for the
motor-giant, Shelby and Miles are given ninety days to accomplish this enormous
For all the
high-octane exhilaration Mangold delivers with race scenes that have their
sound and visuals synced so harmoniously that it transports the viewer behind
the wheel of these fast-moving bombs-on-wheels, he spends just as much time in
the pitstop building the films emotional structure. This emotional backbone is worn
on the worried faces of the no-nonsense wife-of-Miles, Mollie (Caitriona Balfe),
and their son Peter (Noah Jupe), who watch on as their husband/father risks
life and limb so he may live out his dream.
While Ford v Ferrari indulges in the same
beats that compose the sports-drama film blueprint (i.e. the concerned family
watching from the sidelines, a famous rivalry, and under-dogs, etc., etc.),
Mangold’s ability to showcase the rousing friendship between Shelby and Miles
is where the film takes pole position. The buzzing relationship between these
rev-head soulmates succeeds in (eventually) swerving Bale’s portrayal of the
unaccommodating Miles out of caricature territory.
With Shelby, Damon
reels in an impressive performance playing a character whose unwavering will to
drive, as though it were a part of his being, is let down in body. Damon
captures the lemons-into-lemonade nature of Shelby; a man who transfers the
anguish of forced early retirement into his efforts to build the car that
triumph’s over Ferrari. Supporting performances by Letts, Jon Bernthal, and
Josh Lucas as corporate types that are equally as meddling as they are
supportive of Shelby and Miles, hold solid.
If not evident by
the predominantly male cast, Mangold makes no effort to disguise Ford v Ferrari as a film about white men
staring at cars. He does not deny history, nor does he misrepresent it. He
allows the prevalence of white men talking-shop, filling the gaping diversity hole
that was 1960s America, to disseminate hard-boiled masculinity. The end result
being akin to his Academy Award nominated work with Logan that explored the dangers of male aggression.
Throughout Ford v Ferrari, men squabble like
fractious children, they retaliate when insulted (Ford wearing the pressure of
America when taking down Ferrari), and sanitise themselves free of emotion
(particularly worry). The extent of this enabling Miles to perceive deadly
collisions with an insouciant gaze; driving past fiery debris as though it were
roadkill on a highway.
The level of
desensitivity expressed from a storytelling perspective can’t help but translate
over into the responsibilities of the filmmakers, and begs to question whether
a film like Ford v Ferrari – an
undoubtedly entertaining feel-good flick that is perfect for families – risks
being condemned in history due to its celebration of a sport posing great harm
to the environment.
Will films like Rush and Ford v Ferrari be celebrated in thirty years? And will Hollywood
begin to curb producing films like these amidst heated concerns over
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