There’s a staple of literary thought which says that there are only seven basic stories that can be told and that every story ever told is a variation of one of those seven stories. In all fairness (and with uncharacteristic humility), we’d leave the debate of that topic to people far smarter than we are, but the prevalence of recurring themes and rehashed stories has never felt more tangible than it is does right now. In television and film, we live in a society of remakes, reboots, and revivals. More songs than ever are sampling beats or co-opting the hooks from earlier, subjectively superior (but definitively) songs. Needless to say, it always feels refreshing when a film is released, which commits to film a story that has never been told to audiences. And it’s our inherent love of nostalgia that makes Ford v Ferrari feel like such a compelling attempt to do that as an automotive industry highlight.
American automotive designer Carroll Shelby and fearless British race car driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary vehicle for the Ford Motor Company. Together, they plan to compete against the race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.
The Real Story
While we applaud the succinct nature of that synopsis, the real story comes as a result of Henry Ford’s desire for revenge after a 1963 attempt to purchase the Ferrari brand fell through. The plan had been a desperate play to revitalize the Ford brand, which fell out of favor with the emerging youth culture, as result of it’s dated truck and sedan styles. His plan to enact revenge was to be the first American car to win the treacherous race, beating Ferrari which had won seven of the previous eight years. Some of you might be looking for us to spoil some of the historical spoilers, but we’re not going to do it.
Damon and Bale
For those of us of a certain age (especially those of us raised in automotive-centric households), the name Carroll Shelby might have been one that sat high up in an eternal state of reverence. Growing up, my holidays were spent listening on in wars of words between my father and uncles – all of whom were truck drivers/mechanics by profession, but differed in their personal preferences as Ford, GM, and Dodge enthusiasts. But they all shared two commonalities: a love of racing culture, and ties to the Lone Star state. That said, it wasn’t unusual for a certain swaggering Texan driver-turned-designer who wasn’t afraid to play dirty to be name-dropped during my youth. And I have to admit; it feels like Matt Damon captured the essence of the man pretty accurately. Accurate, at least, in terms of public image.
Truth be told, I grew up less familiar with Ken Miles outside of his name and reputation. That said, Bale has rarely earned anything less than high praise for his acting prowess and commitment to a role, and I’m certain that his portrayal in Ford v Ferrari is no exception. As one would expect, he brings the energy of an over-boiling pot, and his combative on-screen chemistry with Damon really helps to sell the double-edged camaraderie shared by the two icons they portray.
What Other People Are Saying
For those of us that pay attention to such things, aggregate scores from sites like IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic feel somewhat pointless. There have been countless examples of such scores being unfairly influenced through outside means and agenda-driven forces. But for those who still like to take a look, Ford v Ferrari has scored 8.3/10, 92% and 81% respectively (which are considered strong numbers).
That said, reviewers love to distinguish themselves by their insights, and this film has been called everything from “the climate change horror film nobody needed” to a show of “how masculinity can make the world a better place.” We’ll gather some of our thoughts in just a few moments, but the diverse range of sentiment attached to this film was to be expected. Not only does it revolve around the oft-vilified automotive industry, but it features two white male leads, embroiled in a state of testosterone-fueled competition during a far-less ‘woke’ era. As far as we’re concerned, you can call it whatever you want (if it makes you feel better); it just doesn’t change the fact that it’s based on a real footnote in history.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
If there’s two things we’re not here to do, it’s (i) initiate a political/sociological debate, and (ii) engage in one. The way we see it, there’s enough of those sort of debates going on every second across social media platforms, and they’re facilitated by people far more impassioned (and far more willing to play ‘Point/Counterpoint’) than we are. That said, bear with us while we make what might be a controversial statement in the minds of some…
The trend towards reactionary emasculation in pop culture is getting old. Setting aside the crux of the debate, the simple truth is that there are a lot of characteristics – and ones that are not exclusive to men – which have been portrayed as ‘toxic’ as of late. And while it’s more-than-a-little annoying to see them worked into adult-themed television and film, most of us haven’t turned a blind eye to its inclusion in children’s fare. That’s a dangerous trend, based solely in the confusing, mixed nature of the implied messages. First, that you’re wonderful and should be celebrated for being exactly the way that you are, unless you’re male. Even worse is that such divisive, biased, and binary philosophies are being dished out alongside a refusal of binary thought. No wonder so many people are confused by the insistence that this is the only way we can move forward as a society.
Which is what makes the look backward shown in Ford v Ferrari feel so refreshing. Yes, it’s a film that depicts a different time where different motivations reigned supreme; and yes, many people won’t be able to relate to either. So while effigies of capitalism, testosterone, and the combustion engine are being burned around the country in anti-establishmentarian protests, the story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles feels more like a rebellious middle-finger to society than the aforementioned protests do. It’s a story of brothers in spirit, and all the combativeness that has come with that relationship since the dawn of time. And regardless of gender, it’s that exhaustive blend of conflict and collaboration that truly moves us forward as a society. It’s the source of all progress and, while progress can sometimes be ugly, the result is something that we experience together.
Ford v Ferrari isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a damn good one. Any film that shines a light on a moment in our collective history (regardless of the perspective) is a positive thing. When we celebrate humanity’s diversity, it’s important to celebrate the diversity of those stories we tell. Some provide inspiration, while others serve as cautionary tales. Some deliver hope, while others deliver stark realities. Some pull at the strings of our hearts, while others trigger the inner workings of our minds.
At the end of the day, we (as a human race) are a complex people, and Ford v Ferrari tells the true story of two men who serve as perfect testimonies to that statement. As a film, it reminds us of the difference between those we aim to canonize and those we declare to be icons. It provides us with an opportunity to celebrate our success and our faults in unison. And more importantly, it reminds us that it’s okay to feel good about both (and dare I say, enjoy the process of doing so).