MOVIE REVIEW: Racing to the Oscars with Ford v Ferrari

By Darien Kulchytsky ‘21

To be honest, I never thought I’d write a movie review. Much less in this era, where movies are either live action or superhero flicks. But going to the theater with my friends the week before Thanksgiving changed all this.

It was a cold Saturday afternoon. After looking at the movies scheduled for the third time, I was distraught at how unfamiliar they were. Ford v Ferrari, Midway, Knives Out, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. At first glance, these movies looked either boring or too long, some both. But finally, I pitched the idea to watch Ford v Ferrari, a movie that I wasn’t too keen on, but it would do. With a run time of 2 hours and 32 minutes, I prepared myself for a snoozer. I mistakenly believed that this movie was only for car fans.

Sitting in the movie theater, I watched the first moments of the movie unfold, with Caroll Shelby (portrayed by Matt Damon) driving the 24 Hours of Le Mans in complete darkness. Now the Le Mans race is an actual event held in June every year, with drivers facing 24 hours on dirt roads at incredibly high speeds. To say it’s dangerous would be sugarcoating it. And to remind you, they are going more than 190 mph, a speed none of us can even begin to comprehend. The movie’s tagline quotation explains it best:

“There’s a point at 7,000 RPMs (revolutions per minute) where everything fades: the machine becomes weightless. It disappears. All that’s left, a body moving through space, and time.”

The movie focuses on Caroll Shelby, owner of Shelby American and 1959 Le Mans winner. He is approached by the automobile company Ford, who asks in his aid in building a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. This idea, proposed by Vice President Lee Iococca, meant to boost car sales at the company. They predicted that if Ford won, people would see the brand as a winner and buy Ford automobiles. And so Caroll Shelby and his automobile company set upon building the world’s fastest car to beat the the most prominent race car brand at the time, Ferrari. In 90 days.

Shelby began with hiring his British racer friend who worked as an auto mechanic, Ken Miles (Christian Bale). The 2 started their race to victory by modifying the original Ford GT40 Mk I (GT = Grand Touring; 40 = height in inches; Mk = Mark). The GT40 had been the car used in previous races at Le Mans, but met little success. Shelby and Miles modified this car, adding new parts and taking out unnecessary functions. After 90 days of tinkering at the Los Angeles International Airport, the Ford GT40 Mk II was created.

The imagery used during the testing of the Mk II created a suspenseful action scene. The variety of perspective shots inside the car and out as well as the audio made the viewer feel as if they were actually in the car. A nail-biting scene shown through expert camera work was the Mark II’s brake failure. With the brakes useless, the Mk II crashed straight into barrels, with pieces of it flying all over. The film made it seem as if Ken Miles had died, displaying footage of his son and wife looking anxiously at the damage. But Miles did live to see another day. This scene really demonstrated the risk of driving at such high speeds and the dangers of being a race car driver.

Other than risky driving, the movie portrayed the strenuous conflict of choosing the perfect driver for the race. Shelby originally chose Ken Miles, but Ford did not approve. Miles was too hot-tempered and headstrong for the Ford PR. He was passionate about his occupation, but was very opinionated. Shelby, convinced of his friend’s racing ability, fought with Ford, confident in Miles’ ability to win. To prove his point, he took Henry Ford II in a 7,000 RPM (190 mph) car ride. Ford II was so baffled at how fast the speed was he began to cry. And so a compromise was made, a promise that Miles would race as long as he won 24 Hours at Daytona. Not surprisingly, he did, stealing the seat for the race at Le Mans.

“The only question that really matters: Who are you?”

After much preparation, race day came: June 18, 1966. Ford was ready to face its rival, Ferrari, by entering 3 drivers into the race, including Miles. At the start of the race, Miles had a faulty door that would not close, losing critical race time and leaving him close to last. But as the race continued to the next day, Ford got lucky as Ferrari experienced brake failure, eliminating them from the race. Thanks to Ferrari, Miles was in the lead. But an order by VP Leo Beebe changed the results of the race, prompting all three Ford cars to finish at the same time for a glorious photo finish. Miles eventually relented, and all three cars crossed the finish line at the same time. Unfortunately, on a technicality, Miles was awarded 2nd place, while the other two Ford racers took 1st and 3rd.

The unfairness of life is demonstrated through Miles’ loss, but an acceptance is seen in his reaction, an acceptance of the unfairness of life. You can’t always win. Miles was able to take the experience of doing what he loved, driving, from the race, not 2nd. A particularly unexpected ending to a movie that I thought would be the triumph of victory. The movie then went on to display a scene 2 months after the race. Miles is testing a new race car, the J-Bar, and, unfortunately, experiences brake failure, resulting in his death! Just when I thought the movie had finished surprising me, it shocked me with that bombshell! But this goes on to prove my original point. Ford v Ferrari is not only a “race car movie,” but much more. It is one of friendship, love, competition and endurance. Go see this astonishing film. You won’t regret it.