One time a man named Henry Ford II decided that he wanted his cars to beat the cars made by a man named Enzo Ferrari in a car race. Henry Ford II hired two men — Christian Bale and Matt Damon — to put on their sunglasses and help him win that car race. That’s basically the plot of Ford v Ferrari, a mid-budget adult drama directed by James Mangold, which many people saw last weekend.
When I went to see it at my local theater last weekend, there was a long line outside an auditorium — a line that didn’t make sense for a 9:30 p.m. showing of Ford v Ferrari. “Is this the line for … Ford v Ferrari?” I mumbled to a pair of teens absolutely blazed out of their noggins. “Joker,” they mumbled back, eyes bloodshot, full of hope and weed and SAT prep. (I loved these boys, seeing Joker — a boring movie — at 9:30 p.m. in its sixth week of release instead of, like, underage drinking at Butter like the kids on Gossip Girl!) Anyway. Upon seeing Ford v Ferrari in theater four and not theater six, I had questions. So in an attempt to make sense of what I’d seen, I decided to pose them to … myself. The result is a guide to Oscar season’s official Dad Movie contender. Maybe you read it after you see Ford v Ferrari or instead of seeing Ford v Ferrari or quickly before a date, to pretend you’ve seen Ford v Ferrari.
First question: Would I be incorrect in thinking Ford v Ferrari is a courtroom drama, sort of like Kramer vs. Kramer?
An insane first question! Didn’t you see the poster, you goof? Yes, you would be incorrect in thinking Ford v Ferrari is a courtroom drama, sort of like Kramer vs. Kramer. No one gets divorced in Ford v Ferrari although it is open to interpretation whether someone should get divorced.
Let’s check our biases at the door, here. Did you enter into Ford v Ferrari expecting to dislike it? Were you waiting to dislike it? Did you pre-write this anticipating your dislike of it?
No! I have very few preconceived notions about movies, unless it is written by Greta Gerwig, in which case I expect it will be good, or it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in which case I will expect it to be fine despite the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (Sorry to this man.) I genuinely thought I would have a good time in Ford v Ferrari considering I like Christian Bale and am extremely competitive. Also it is my birthright as an Oklahoman to support every Tracy Letts movie.
Generally, what is Ford v Ferrari about?
The log line is simple enough: “American automotive designer Carroll Shelby and fearless British race car driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary vehicle for the Ford Motor Co.” Their car will race against the cars of Enzo Ferrari, and hopefully — in the name of God, America, and capitalism — the Ford car will win.
What did you like about Ford v Ferrari?
It is an incredible movie about sunglasses.
“An incredible movie about sunglasses.” Say more.
You expect Ford v Ferrari to be a movie about “cars” and “racing” and “competition” and “testosterone.” And Ford v Ferrari is, obviously, about all of those things. But it is mostly a movie about sunglasses in the same way Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a movie about an ellipses and Brad Pitt making Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Midsommar is about flower crowns and dumping any man who claims to be “working” on a “thesis.” At every opportunity, Ford v Ferrari’s camera ogles the sunglasses worn by its main characters, even when they are very clearly in the shade. Because Carroll Shelby contains multitudes — he is not just ambitious, he is also honorable — he wears black lenses and black frames, and black lenses and clear frames. Because Ken Miles is a classic irascible genius, he wears sunglasses from your local bodega, signaling that he doesn’t have time to care about how he looks when he’s changing the state of racing as we know it.
(But Miles does have time to dab on some bronzer because that really worked for Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born.)
Here is what I did the very next afternoon after seeing Ford v Ferrari, a movie about sunglasses. I bought a pair of sunglasses. (These, if you’re curious.) What I’m saying is: It worked.
What else is Ford v Ferrari about?
In no particular order, Ford v Ferrari is about: groceries, driving, and Josh Lucas’s li’l bangs. (Someday we, as a society, will have to reckon with the fact that we chose Matthew McConaughey over Josh Lucas. I know that you are all extremely nosy so I will only say that where I fall in this debate changes day-to-day.)
What was impressive about Ford v Ferrari?
I was lukewarm on the racing sequences because they use a lot of green screen and it’s hard to get a sense of how fast the cars are going except for being told that they’re not just going really fast or superfast but really super-fucking-fast. Later I learned the racing scenes were edited together from footage filmed in Georgia and California, so that impressed me: These races were filmed separately in two different places but edited together to look like they were filmed in one place. Movie magic, I guess.
What was your favorite part of Ford v Ferrari?
I don’t have a favorite part. I did get a kick out of the way this movie has an absolutely Green Book–level of interest in and understanding of being Italian, by which I mean: extremely childish and cartoonish. Enzo Ferrari is sort of a villain here, inasmuch as he is the favorite to win Le Mans. Nothing he does is villainous, just stereotypically Italian: He has a temper and sips espresso and talks with his hands. In one scene he throws a tantrum in a conversation with Lee Iacocca, played by Jon Bernthal, and then says that he’s starving. Get it? Because he’s Italian!
How much Jon Bernthal —
No, no, I didn’t finish my question. I was gonna ask how much screen time did Jon —
Where, I ask you, is Jon Bernthal’s episode of Thirst Aid Kit? Where is it!?
So who is the villain here?
At first it seems like it will be Letts, who plays Henry Ford II. Quickly, Henry Ford II is revealed to be an uninspired suit with no vision who just wants to win without upsetting the Ford Motor Company’s bureaucracy. Like many Tracy Letts roles, he frowns a lot and yells a lot (although we, of course, know Letts is a big ol’ softie in real life).
The ostensible villain is Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas and his li’l bangs. (I want to be clear that we’re saying “lil bangs,” the way Joel Kim Booster does on Sunnyside.) He is mean and bad insists on crushing the driving dreams of our heroes! Ken Miles is not a company man, he says, and shouldn’t be allowed to drive Ford at Le Mans; Carroll Shelby won’t fall in line, he says, so why does he have to lead the effort at all? It’s never really clear why he doesn’t like these guys, other than they are willing to talk back to him and they have eyes to see his ridiculous li’l bangs and probably talk about them behind his back.
The real villain, however, is this script! More than once, two characters have a fight — usually about Ken Miles and his attitude — only for two other characters to have the exact same fight a scene later. Iacocca will fight with Carroll Shelby, and then Carroll Shelby will have the exact same fight with Leo Beebe. Very often, Ken’s kid (Honey Boy’s Noah Jupe) will say something like “Dad’s winning!” so you will know exactly what’s going on when it comes to the racing stuff.
Is there a wife in this movie?
Of course there is a wife in this movie. Caitriona Balfe plays Mollie Miles, wife of Ken. She is relegated to all the Movie Wife things, unfortunately: She listens to her husband and his Big Ideas, she supports her husband and his Big Ideas, and she looks out the window at her husband as he executes all his Big Ideas. More than once she brings him a meal as he stays late in the garage to finish a Big Idea.
It’s really a shame — Balfe is the only woman in this movie and all she gets to do is applaud the men’s actions. She also gets one insane scene where Mollie, in a moment of desperation, speeds down the street in her station wagon, with groceries in the car, demanding that Christian Bale tell her the truth about his plans to work for Ford. At one point during this scene I thought, “Lady Bird so would’ve jumped out of this car by now.”
Are you a good driver?
I am a good driver but a bad navigator. You might hear rumors that I like to sit very close to the wheel, but I am not very tall so I have to sit very close to the wheel.
Who is the better driver: Christian Bale as Ken Miles, Ansel Elgort as Baby Driver, or Ryan Gosling as that guy in Drive?
Easy: Natalie Portman driving cross-country to catch her cheating man in Lucy in the Sky.
What is your final verdict here? Is Ford v Ferrari, as rumored, a dad movie?
Ford V Ferrari is certainly engineered to be a dad movie, and I don’t mean that to be patronizing — okay, fine, not entirely patronizing. Sometimes dads are right about movies! (The Ringer correctly defined “dad cinema” as a movie 100 percent likely to air on TNT — The Pelican Brief is one of my favorite movies and also a great dad movie and also gets a lot of reruns on TNT.) In my professional opinion, however, Ford v Ferrari needs exactly one weirdly chaste scene of foreplay and at least two supporting character actors from Billions to qualify it as a dad movie. Dads love recognizing “that guy” from “that show” and that show is either Billions or Ray Donovan but most of the time it’s The Wire, and they don’t believe you when you tell them that.