I saw Ford v Ferrari on a preview night, and generally found it an enjoyable romp, though somewhat “problematic”.
If I had to describe the movie in 3 words, those words would be “Men Behaving Badly”. About 98% of the screen time consists of men, and every single one of them is an asshole. Driver & mechanic Ken Miles is constantly exploding into violent tantrums, including throwing a wrench at the head of a friend who suggests that race rules apply to him. Car designer Carroll Shelby steals from his customers, evades taxes, and savagely insults everyone he meets. Henry Ford II threatens to fire every worker on a whim. Even Enzo Ferrari, who at first appears to be the dignified elder statesman of racing, lets loose an unprompted litany of profanity and insults that would shock a dockside prostitute.
You might imagine that such rude, obnoxious characters would turn off audiences, but Hollywood knows what they’re doing. Classic move #1 is that people tolerate these men because they’re the best at what they do – it’s as if every character was House M.D. Classic move #2 is that the film is set 50 years ago, and we excuse outrageous behaviour if it’s from the good ol’ days. In fact, I suspect that’s why the producers decided to tell this particular story: their audiences want to fantasize about dropping their civilized restraint and wallowing in masculine misbehavior, and the past is an allowable place to do that. It’s a western with brake fade.
There are two exceptions to the asshole cast. One is Ken Miles’ Stepford wife, who supports him to an unbelievable degree. Not only does she encourage him to continue racing when the IRS is threatening to take their house, but after he and Shelby get in a fist fight, she rewards them with soda pop and ice cream. No kidding. The other is Miles’ little son, who is apparently in the movie to show that being rude, unpredictable and irresponsible makes you a great father.
In a movie full of terrible people, how do you distinguish the villain? Unsurprisingly, in this all-American, testosterone-fueled, 72-oz-steak-washed-down-with-whiskey world, the answer is to make the villain effeminate.
The film has some things going for it. The action is exciting, and there are some jokes. The men have enough vulnerability to be sympathetic, and Miles is so effusive that the audience can appreciate the perfect lap. Like a lot of good art, understanding how it’s manipulating you doesn’t stop it from working, so even the masculinity is satisfying. I give it 2.5 stars out of 4.