Ford vs. Ferrari (2019) by James Mangold

I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about this film. It is interesting but also a dense one in that it manages to juggle a lot of different themes really well. Writers, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller must be commended for this feat.

Biographical dramas rarely have characters and stories that are able to work in unison for the sake of the plot, usually one must give to the other or if nothing else, historical accuracy must be sacrificed. For example, Sorkin’s ‘Steve Jobs’ focuses on the 10 or so minutes before the launch of three major Apple products to tell the story of Steve Jobs. One can safely assume that most of the events depicted are not wholly accurate, but they do in essence capture the complexity of the man himself. The same can be said about Nolan’s Dunkirk which has to use a wholly unique depiction of time to be able to tell the story of the British soldiers trying to cross the channel in World War 2.

Now, in the case of Ford vs Ferrari, I am not sure if accuracy was sacrificed as I am not an expert on either Ferrari or Ford. However, what sets this biopic apart from the ones discussed is that it manages to tell a nuanced cohesive narrative without having to employ unique time restraints or film techniques. This is not to say that doing so detracts from the film. ‘Steve Jobs’ and ‘Dunkirk’ are both incredible films, but it is a testament to the writers and their skill (and in part luck), that this story manages to flow the way it does without needing these tools.

The reason it does so is that it focuses on the lives of Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby. Who are those two people you might ask? They are the heart of the film. Played by Christian Bale and Matt Damon respectively, they are two racer cum car designers who built the car that allowed Ford to compete with Ferrari at Le Mans, a 24-hour racing competition.

Their relationship and personal journeys to prove themselves and follow their passion for racing form the crux of the story. Other topics, such as Ford and Ferrari’s resentment for each other, the politics of corporations using individuals, the responsibility of a father to his son and wife, the joy of racing, all are only brought together through this relationship.

This is what makes this film a great experience for me. It’s not a wholly unique film, but it is a biopic that manages to be thrilling while seemingly staying true to the events that happened. It also manages to have a clear plot that is engaging and rewarding. Personally, while I resent overly dramatised biopics that mine a person’s life for simple entertainment. I tire of biopics when they are too true to reality and have no plot.

Yes, I am aware that my bar may seem ridiculous and perhaps unrealistic. I do not think I can even meet it. I am just commending Ford vs. Ferrari for somehow managing it.

Last but not least, I think it should also be commended for managing to make auto racing fascinating. I am not a racer and I have never enjoyed watching car races or any sport for that matter. My consumption stops at highlight reels for education and short entertainment purposes. Thus, for this film to make zipping around a track for 24 hours straight interesting, is a feat. They’ve managed it because they ensured the characters, Miles and Shelby, are people we thoroughly care about.

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