Going Fast: A Review of ‘Ford v. Ferrari’

Fast cars are a way of life.

I know this better than most. My grandfather raced Porsches back in the 1970s, and my father and brother have carried on the tradition. They spend about one weekend a month at the track, and a good portion of the rest of their time building racecars. Racing, and the racing life, requires just as much time, dedication, and money, as any other sport, but, you go a hell of a lot faster.

Ford v. Ferrari is an homage to the sport, and, a touching tribute to one of its finest: Ken Miles.

The film follows the story of Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who teamed up to create the fastest car in the world, backed by the Ford Motor company. They build a car, and–after some pushback from ‘the suits’–they compete in the 24-hours Le Mans race. That’s the story in as simple terms as I can put it (trying to keep it spoiler-free, y’all).

Technically speaking, the film is a masterpiece, with cinematography that actually makes you feel that you’re in a car speeding at over 200 mph. The shots that take place at sunrise or sunset are particularly stunning, and there’s something to be said for director James Mangold and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s use of natural light. In an age where it seems that every film is saturated with the digital, Ford v. Ferrari is perhaps a return to a simpler time and a simpler world where nothing exists besides a car, a driver, and a stretch of open road.

The film portrays American-made race cars as the underdog in the racing world, with Carroll and Ken appearing as a version of Cinderella (but instead of a glass slipper, you have an 8-cylinder engine). While it was a bit difficult for me to see the Ford corporate magnate as any kind of Cinderella, it was surprisingly easy to sympathize with Carroll and Ken as they set out to build the fastest car in the world.

Aside from the flashy cars, loud revving engines, and fast curves on the track, this is really a film about friendship between Carroll and Ken. There’s a kind of bond that only people in the racing world can share–my late grandfather’s racing buddies still regularly drop by my dad’s automotive shop to pay their respects–and these two men may not seemingly have much in common on the surface, however racing has a way of forming bonds of brotherhood that last a lifetime, and, it seems, even beyond.

In this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees, Ford v. Ferrari is a refreshingly accessible film whose fond look down memory lane is not soaked in nostalgia so thick you’d choke (I’m looking at you, The Irishman). While I’m not certain that Ford v. Ferrari will cross the finish line in first in Sunday’s awards ceremony, I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my grandfather would have loved this film, and that makes this film have a special place in my heart.