With a slight Oscar buzz about it, James Mangold’s latest film Ford v Ferrari roars onto our screens with a rev of the engine and a whiff of excitement.
It’s the mid-1960s and a rivalry is brewing between the bespoke Ferrari brand and the American powerhouse that is Ford Motor Company. Enlisting the expertise of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and the unpredictable but unbeatable racecar driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), Ford challenges Ferrari to the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which the Italian car has won four times in the past five years. What’s more, Shelby promises to design and build the car to beat Ferrari in 90 days.
Calling this endeavour overly ambitious is an understatement and we are taken on an intense, emotional ride, with both bodies and friendships pushed to the limit. The desire to beat Ferrari quickly becomes infectious as the audience is swept up into this world of ruly racetracks and garages confined by strict corporate protocols.
However, there is one thing more noticeable than the love these men have for their cars – the cast of Ford v Ferrari is, concerningly, distractingly, male and white. Close to 99% of the cast are men, with Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) being the only named woman in the film (although she is bound and defined by her role as a wife and mother). The other two women who appear on screen for more than a moment are listed on IMDB as “Ford Secretary” and “Ferrari Translator.” Yep.
It’s quite possible that during the quick bathroom break I took at the 90 minute mark a female character with a name entered the film, worked her way through a full story arc, sat down and had a cup of tea with Mollie to speak about something other than men before quickly exiting the film after successfully passing the Bechdel Test. But I highly doubt it.
I get that in the 1960s there were likely very few women in the car racing industry and understand that the filmmakers were probably attempting to faithfully recreate this, but come on. It’s as if no women existed as all, not even in the base capacity of girlfriend, fiance, mother or sister. Rather than successfully portray this time with the accuracy of a historian’s pen, the filmmakers have instead artfully created an alternate world devoid of more than half the human population.
I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers should have inserted women or PoC (people of colour) into the storyline for diversity’s sake. I’m just questioning why films that bring white male-centric narratives to the fore are still being made and exalted in 2019.
Now, if you can distinguish between the myriad of men with similar faces in the cast and ignore the little voice in your mind that screams “Do these men not have any women in their lives? Are there no women in this world? Where are the people of colour? What is this dystopia?”, you’ll enjoy Ford v Ferrari. Not only does it get the adrenaline pumping and heart racing, but it is also an exquisitely beautiful film.
The muted colouring and understated set dressing create a definite sense of authenticity that does not stumble into nostalgia. The race scenes are shot and cut to perfection – they’ll have you at the edge of your seat for a majority of the scene. For those unacquainted with the true story, the film manages to mix just the right amount of exposition and foreshadowing with hints of suspense.
Dads are going to love Ford v Ferrari. The Academy is probably going to love Ford v Ferarri. I want to love Ford v Ferrari too, but I just can’t bring myself to when there is only one poorly written woman on the screen and no PoC.
According to Matt Damon, Christian Bale had to lose seventy pounds before filming began. Bale had previously gained a lot of weight for his role in Vice (2018) and had about seven months to lose it all and then some to play the lean race car driver, Ken Miles. Damon inquired of Bale how he managed to lose all the weight, to which Bale replied that he simply didn’t eat. Damon said he was impressed by Bale’s monk-like discipline.