“Ford v Ferrari” review: more than a racing epic

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One reason why I love winter break is because I can curl up on the couch and binge movie after movie long into the night. Amid blockbusters such as “The Rise of Skywalker,” “Parasite” and “The Irishman,” my mind kept wandering to a movie I saw weeks earlier during Thanksgiving break: “Ford v Ferrari.”

Set in the 1960s, “Ford v Ferrari” features the Ford Motor Company racing team’s struggle to overcome both the dominant Ferrari racing team and the demands of bureaucratic Ford executives in a quest to win the 24 hours of Le Mans, the world’s most prestigious automobile race.

Offering plenty of thrilling racing sequences, the film did not disappoint. Utilizing a driver-centric camera angle instead of the more common long-range shots allows the audience to feel the tension of each racing scene. It firmly placed me in the seat next to Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale), Ford’s star driver. 

Furthermore, by contrasting rapid conversations and Miles’s racing scenes with slower, plot-building moments, the film displays the excitement of car racing, but more importantly, it showcases the humanity of the people behind the wheel. While watching, I did not feel the need to zone out, which I unfortunately do quite often.

Although each scene was realistically constructed, the film is memorable for a different reason. It tells an emotionally charged story in which the protagonists accomplish something extraordinary. Along the way, the film imparts three keys for achieving this outcome.

First, one must dare to aim high. Or, shall I say, aim fast.

The film opens by presenting the struggling 1960s Ford Motor Company’s efforts to expand sales. Vice President of Ford Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) advances a novel idea: defeat Ferrari at Le Mans. There is only a small challenge: Ferrari has won the past five Le Mans while Ford has virtually no racing experience. Although both his fellow Ford executives and Ferrari scorn his proposal, Iacocca remains committed to his goal.

Second, assemble a team that maximizes everyone’s strengths.

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To compensate for his own lack of racing expertise, Iacocca hires Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon), a former Le Mans winner sharing his vision who was forced to quit racing due to a heart condition. Shelby recruits a talented, innovative support crew featuring Miles, a brilliant, hotheaded mechanic and former racer who lacks emotional skills.

To accomplish their goal of defeating Ferrari at Le Mans, the Ford racing team, just like a well-oiled machine, demonstrates a mastery of their craft. For instance, during testing of Ford’s revolutionary vehicle, Miles proves a team of Ford engineers and computer simulators wrong while discussing air resistance.

Third, think outside the box.

Certain obstacles lie in Shelby and Miles’s path, forcing the team to find innovative solutions. When Senior Vice President Leo Beebe gains control of the Ford racing team in 1966, he tries to permanently block Miles from racing for Ford. Shelby, realizing this, appeals to Ford CEO Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts) in a memorable driving scene. In doing so, he teaches the value of combining innovative solutions with an appeal to emotions, specifically, Ford’s desire to place the best man behind the wheel.

Another imaginative solution occurs during the climactic 1966 Le Mans race. To prevent brake failure from occurring during a race, the Ford team performed an unprecedented brake change during a pit stop. Despite the indignant protest of the watching Ferrari team, the officials decided the matter in favor of Ford. Shelby and Miles’s actions demonstrate thinking creatively to find a surprising solution may allow one to circumvent a seemingly insurmountable difficulty.

The film ends with the warning that extraordinary accomplishments may be paired with the ultimate price. In the waning moments of the film, three months after Ford’s 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 Le Mans, having ushered in a period of Ford racing supremacy, Miles dies in a testing accident.

“Ford v Ferrari” was not only an action movie that pulled me into its world for two and a half hours, although it certainly delighted in the thrill factor. The film showed how to accomplish something extraordinary and concluded with an emotional reminder of what may happen during the pursuit of one’s goals. As I finish this piece, I learned that the film was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It definitely gets my vote.