It’s not often a movie breaks no ground whatsoever, is chock full of clichés, is two-and-a-half hours long, and somehow still finds a way to be completely entertaining and engaging from basically the first frame to the last. But I’ll be darned if Ford v Ferrari doesn’t pull it off.
In the mid-1960s, after failing to buy Ferrari, the Ford Motor Company sets out to create a racecar that could win the fabled Le Mans 24-hour race, an event Ferrari had dominated for years. They enlist the help of Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby, himself a previous Le Mans winner turned car designer, and after some fits and starts they more or less give him a blank check to create the car that can win.
Shelby’s team includes the difficult-but-brilliant engineer and driver Ken Miles, played delightfully by Christian Bale, and much of the dramatic tension comes from Shelby knowing Miles is both the single best person to build the car and also the only one who can really drive it, while Ford brass consistently tries to marginalize Miles, arguing his volatility doesn’t present the best public face for the company.
Now, zoom out and you’ll see everything I said at the beginning is true, but when you’re watching the movie, either you barely notice or it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Ford v Ferrari is good in a classic Hollywood kind of way—it knows what’s worked in movies before and it takes the best of that and is able to make a sharp, funny, exciting sports movie. Bale has the showiest role, but the acting is uniformly solid, and I can’t remember the film dragging for a minute, despite its running time.
Ford v Ferrari will almost certainly be the top “safe” choice at the Oscars this year, unless Cats turns into a phenomenon, but this isn’t a knock on the movie. Real, excellent crowd pleasers are hard to come by, and they should be appreciated. To use a cliché of my own: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Agency.