Ford v Ferrari: Friendship at the Finish Line
Updated: Nov 23, 2019
It’s been a good year for male friendships on screen. Earlier in the year we had Netflix’s wonderful and underappreciated Paddleton starring Ray Romano and his cancer-stricken friend played by the warm Mark Duplass. Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood had loyal stunt-man Cliff Booth “carrying his load” and boosting the confidence of his actor buddy Rick Dalton. The leading friendship of The Last Black Man in San Francisco between Jimmie and Jonathon manifested into an excessive act of necessary honesty. There’s something there in The Lighthouse too; put Thomas (Winslow?) and Winslow in different, less turbulent circumstances and just maybe they get along.
Now there’s Ford v Ferrari, where automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon is more than just Matt Damon here and I won’t hear differently) and the difficult but expert race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale is Christian Bale here in the fact that he always disappears into his roles) are recruited by Ford to design a racing model that can best Enzo Ferrari and his speed demons at the 24 Hour of Le Mans in France in 1966. While Shelby and Miles already know each other, they bond even more in this two and a half hour film, dealing with the sticky meddlers of Ford while trying to make a car that can burst to 7,000 RPM without burning the brakes to hell at every quick turn.
It’s old-fashioned entertainment, and while today’s many cynics would disagree, what’s wrong with a little old-fashioned every now and then? We don’t get many mid-budget, adult friendly films anymore and we should enjoy them while we can. In a time where the the movie star is declared dead and Iron Man, the Hulk, and even Doctor Strange are considered today’s “stars,” Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo Dicaprio can still bring in big numbers. It also turns out that these guys are good at being friends.
Ford v Ferrari flies by. The racing sequences are spectacular and thrilling in every way, especially in the exhilarating editing. James Mangold (Logan) directs with sharpness and ease, imbuing tension in the fast-pace of it all. While straightforward and run-of-the-mill with some typical Hollywood beats, it’s a darn good time. It’s classic cinema and Hollywood storytelling with intermittent tire squeals, engine revs, and driver trash talk. That may not appeal to some modern moviegoers who don't care to put it in reverse or people who are indifferent about racing and cars (like me), but it’s worth watching for the human element. While always moving, the film doesn’t forget to stop and enjoy the view that is Matt Damon and Christian Bale. They’re friendship is a real one, based on the passionate appreciation of the art of driving an automobile very fast and bonded further by their recalcitrant attitudes to the pesky suits of Ford, always intervening and denying Ken Miles his due glory in order to pursue their corporate desires. Ferrari is relegated, a bit offhandedly, to the villain role, but it’s the higher-ups of Ford that really shifts your gear to “A” for angry. Damon excels as Shelby, the good ol’ boy from Texas and you can’t help but fight back tears right alongside him in the final scene. We’re in the driver’s seat of our lives, but we wouldn’t win, much less get to the finish line, without a close friend watching from the pit stop, rooting for us and urging us to drive unfettered from the constraints of the watchful eyes in the luxury suite.