Oscars 2020: Ford v Ferrari – A celebration of racing’s finest wrapped in American nationalism
With the likes of Parasite and 1917 in the run, it is unlikely that Ford v Ferrari will win the Oscars for the Best Picture. But then again, as the film showed, unlikely things have happened in the past.
"There’s a point at 7,000 RPMs where everything fades.
The machine becomes weightless. It disappears.
All that’s left, a body moving through space, and time.
At 7,000 RPM, that’s where you meet it. That’s where it waits for you."
If you walked into the theatres expecting another high-adrenaline, low brain use flick then James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari will leave you a tad disappointed. Not because it is a bad film. Its drawback is that it is too good for the genre. The Oscar-nominated film featuring Christian Bale and Matt Damon goes beyond most movies in the domain with artfully crafted racing sequences and behind-the-scenes drama that will leave you spellbound. In other words, the film isn't another Fast & Furious; it delves into the minds of racers and why they do what they do with all the risks involved.
Ford v Ferrari is the story of two such racers -- Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon) -- and their friendship juxtaposed against a rivalry that changed the world of motorsport. It is a film of how two men, bound by the pure love of racing and fast machines, inspired a company to do the undoable and bring about a paradigm shift in the organisation's approach to car manufacturing.
Celebrating Ken Miles
We did not want to fill the review with spoilers, but if you've seen the trailer you probably know the film is about friendship as much as it is about the rivalry between two manufacturers. Shelby, the first American to win the 24-hour Le Mans, was forced to quit racing due to medical conditions. In Miles, he sees a driver that can potentially win the toughest endurance race in the world, and keep his love for racing alive. For Miles, Shelby is the only one who believes in him and is willing to go the distance to get him to Le Mans. So when Ford comes with an offer they can't refuse, the two friends team up to do the unthinkable.
The film is about how the two pulled off this wild dream, and not simply the act of doing it. It is a celebration of Miles, in particular, who isn't as popular as Shelby beyond the racing circles. Ken Miles represented the purest in the racing world. In a world of James Hunt and Niki Lauda (from Rush), Miles was Hunt. But he wasn't an alcoholic or a womaniser like Hunt. He was in love with the machines. He was partly responsible for designing the Ford GT that went on to dominate the Le Mans in the late 60s. In more Formula One terms, he was the Ayrton Senna -- a pure talent whose love for racing defined generations that followed.
Nationalism and nostalgia
"This isn’t the first time Ford Motor’s gone to war with Europe. We know how to do more than push paper. Go ahead, Carroll. Go to war," says Henry Ford II to Shelby after Ford's first loss at the Le Mans. Make no mistake, this film is dipped in nationalism. That feeling is amplified by the over-the-top representation of the Italians as the villains. There were multiple instances where it felt like a James Bond film -- Ford is the British Secret Service and Ferrari is the USSR/KGB-inspired villain.
While the continuous dissing of the Italians can get annoying for a neutral, some might argue that this was the true representation of the events that unfolded in the mid-60s. There was animosity between the car giants and the director perhaps magnified it for cinematic purposes. Artistic freedom perhaps?
Films such as Top Gun, Air Force One, and American Sniper are examples of how the spirit of nationalism tends to sell in films. Miles' background as a soldier adds to this feeling. The film was also Detroit's victory against Turin. A flashback to the time when America ruled the manufacturing industry. So it isn't surprising as to why the producers were inclined to tap into those emotions. The additional element of nostalgia worked perfectly for the film. Ford v Ferrari is an opportunity to forget 2020, climate change, and the crisis looming over vehicle manufacturers, and just live in the 60s where burning fossil fuel and enjoying a carefree life was the norm in the USA.
If popularity was a criterion in winning the Oscars then Ford v Ferrari would be in the mix of things. The truth is, it probably won't, because it is just a simple film with a sequential narration. It is, in some ways, an irony that the film is, unfortunately, a Ford - it is a lot of simple things done well. But the Oscars tend to love the Ferrari -- suave and state-of-the-art. With the likes of Parasite and the tailor-made for Oscars -- 1917 -- in the run for the Best Picture Award, it is unlikely that Ford v Ferrari will win. But then again, as the film showed, unlikely things have happened in the past.
Watch the trailer here