Going into James Mangold’s 2019 film Ford V. Ferrari, I didn’t expect to be so touched by a racing film. From the trailer, I had expected a bright and comedic thrill of a sports film but left the theatre with tears in my eyes and a heart full of pride. Films that lure you in for one feeling but leave you with another that will enhance it are my favorite kinds of films; they subvert expectations and show that film can be more than just fast action and nice cinematography. Ford V. Ferrari embodies that.
What makes Ford V. Ferrari so special is that not only it is a film about success, it’s a film about the heart of success. The good, the bad, the pressure, and the ease. You don’t only form connections with the main characters, Ken and Caroll, but you learn to care for their families and friends the way they would. These examples of relationships show that success does not exist in a vacuum and is never the product of the efforts of one single person; it is something of multiple moving parts.
The character of Ken Miles portrayed enthusiastically by Christian Bale, is a versatile and most importantly, human. He’s charming and driven, but also slightly flawed and overbearing. He’s dedicated to his craft, and while he may throw tantrums over his car design, the light in his eyes when he’s flying down the track makes it all worth it. We know him on the racetrack as a cursing and bashful driver, but at home, he’s a loving father and caring husband to his wife and children. To Caroll, he’s an enigmatic sidekick and although they differ, they manage to complete each other.
Caroll giving the wrench to Ken’s son after his passing is a heartwarming and pleasing ending to a film that spends the latter half of its runtime on beautifully presented racing sequences. The object that once represented his father’s anger is now known as one of his love. The pain and frustration of racing preparations ultimately made him a better person and allowed him to have a legacy, both within the world of sport and within his family.
This balance of motivation and care takes not only Bale’s character to a new level but the film itself. Most racing films lack a general plot and can purely focus on fast-paced racing sequences and muscled up movie stars in the leading roles, but Ford V. Ferrari differs in that it brings heart and soul to its sport, rather than just leaving it to cliches and racing film stereotypes.
The film’s plot twist is its central example of the film’s combination of both sport and heart. Instead of being the sole winner of the race, which would have been an easy medal to win, Miles alters the speed of his car to allow all three Ford cars to pass, which ultimately leads to him losing the race due to a minor technicality. While the audience feels angered and cheated with their protagonist’s loss, Caroll tells Ken “I promised you the drive, not the win”.
Those words capture the essence of Ford V. Ferrari wonderfully. The film doesn’t promise or present a win or any form of success, but rather the effort and passion that makes it. The drive can sometimes be more exciting than the win, which is more personally rewarding than a materialistic win, which the corporate powers behind Le Mans 66 lusted for. We have to be okay with the drive instead of the win; we must love and admire it.