This article is part of Esquire’s Oscars series in which we consider if each Best Picture nominee at 2020 Academy Awards should or should not take home the night’s highest honor. Read the rest of the Oscars series here.
I’m supposed to really like Ford v Ferrari. I’m a “car guy,” and this is one of the automotive world’s most mythologized stories: Ford, having been unexpectedly rebuffed from purchasing Ferrari, decides to exact revenge by beating the Italian carmaker where it hurts, where their exotic sports cars have long dominated, on the racecourse. But not just any course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans—a grueling contest that happens rain or shine, day and night, on curvy, bumpy country roads intended more for farm equipment than for land rockets capable of triple digit speeds. Even today, the race is considered a true test of engineering and endurance for both car and driver.
And, oh yeah, Ford’s track record at Le Mans in the early sixties? Not good. And they’ll have to develop a car and a team capable of beating Ferrari in, like, how’s yesterday work for you? Good? Get to it.
I liked Ford v Ferrari. The race scenes, for the most part, capture what it’s really like to be shrouded in metal, racing to win and to stay alive, a micro-decision away from death or victory. These scenes are so visceral, partially because they are mostly real—very little CGI was used. The stunt team was nominated for a SAG award, probably the highest honor in the stunt world.
But Ford v Ferrari shouldn’t win Best Picture. It shouldn’t even have been nominated, really. My problem isn’t necessarily with the film. I’d watch this on the plane or if it popped up on TBS on a Sunday morning. My problem with Ford v Ferrari being in the Best Picture running is that it’s essentially a movie about privileged dicks (who all happen to all be white dudes) that came out in 2019, where, well, it’s not exactly the best time to be a privileged dick.
Ford v Ferrari’s slot in the Best Picture category just goes to show that the Academy still has a long way to go when it comes to supporting more diversity when it comes to filmmakers, actors, and stories. The fact that Hollywood has such a fetish for an average movie filled with white dicks (see also: The Joker, The Irishman) more than it does The Farewell or Dolemite is My Name? Well, that’s just a dick move.
Ok, sure. Matt Damon is dependable in the role of Carol Shelby. Christian Bale turns out an entertaining, if not slightly over-cooked performance as Ken Miles, the racer and engineer who is extremely talented but not necessarily a people person. Tracy Letts is fun as the blowhard-y Henry Ford II. And director James Mangold, who made Logan into one of the smartest of the Marvel movies, handles this material with a methodical, well-crafted hand. The whole movie has the whiff of the analog. You walk away thinking, they don’t make movies like this anymore.
But man, everyone is such a dick in Ford v Ferrari.
Just for fun, allow me to list some of the dick moves of all of the dicks in this movie:
Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon): Asks one of his employees to lock a grown man in his office. He plays little pranks on the Italian team during the 24 hours of Le Mans that really amount to cheating. And several times throughout the film, he drives dangerously on suburban streets as though he’s above the law making other innocent cars swerve out of his way. Dick.
Ken Miles (Christian Bale): Huge temper problem that results in a lot of broken shit. Is so obsessed with racing that he pretty much ignores his wife and son. Not a bad husband/dad, but a little too self-involved to be a great one. Least dickish of the bunch, but still a dick.
Bill Ford II (Tracy Letts): He yells at and threatens nearly everyone who works for him. Arrives at 24 Hours of Le Mans in a helicopter so he can grab a meal in Paris. And he calls James Bond a degenerate for being, um, a sex positive kind of dude. Old school privileged rich guy dick.
Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas): Concocts a PR stunt to have all of the Ford cars cross the finish line at the same time, robbing Ken Miles of a 1st place victory. Smarmy corporate ladder climbing dick.
Am I saying that Ford v Ferrari would be worthy of a best picture were it a bit more woke? Nah. It’s true enough to the historical event. (But it should have definitely dove deeper into the death of Ken Miles.) The fact of the matter is, those guys were probably kind of dicks in real life. I’ve been covering the car world for like 20 years now, and, you know what: tons of dicks. Many nice dicks. But still dicks. (For the record: I’m not not-a-dick.)
Go ahead, enjoy this movie for all of its angry white male dickness. Just don’t root for it for Best Picture. Because then you’d be a real dick.