Documentary Review: ‘A Faster Horse’

I am not interested in cars as anything other than a means of getting from one point to another. In a rare moment of clarity in “A Faster Horse,” director David Gelb’s otherwise gauzy and interminable paean to the genius of the Ford Motor Company and its ostensible masterpiece, the Mustang, somebody says, “If you were really logical, you would never buy a Mustang.” And I thought, “Yes! Finally, someone is starting to make sense! Why would anyone buy this thing?” Like I said, I’m not a car guy. I once owned a 1991 Lincoln Town Car I really liked, but, yeah, I’m not exactly the target audience for this movie.

But I’m not particularly into sushi either, and I still quite enjoyed Gelb’s previous documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” about sushi master Jiro Ono’s tiny and very expensive fish joint. In “Jiro” it was pretty fascinating to watch the meticulous preparation of rice and the artful slicing of tuna, and if that didn’t grab you, there was Jiro’s weird semi-ascetic monomania and the fascinating family drama. “A Faster Horse” is pretty light on the details of the its subject — the 2015 redesign of the Mustang — and even lighter on human interest of any kind. So shallow and uncritical is this movie that it easily could have been produced by Ford’s PR department.

The whole thing just feels like a commercial, or at least like the automotive equivalent of a making-of featurette. (I can hear the sales pitch now: “Buy the 2015 Mustang for the low, low price of just $25,000, and we’ll throw in a free DVD of ‘A Faster Horse’!”) Gelb parallels the design process of the new Mustang — from concept to manufacture — with the story behind the original Mustang fifty years earlier. Neither of these threads was particularly interesting to me, and the juxtaposition only served to highlight how cautious the current design process is. Ford is now clearly in the position of preserving a very lucrative legacy than in pushing boundaries of any kind. Gelb’s approach is annoyingly unspecific — he dips into conference meetings and testing sessions briefly before cutting to yet another talking head telling us how important it is that Ford gets this right — but the details he does show us are not terribly engaging, cost-benefit analyses and minor engineering issues like a shaky steering wheel.

There is none of “Jiro”’s human drama in “Horse.” The guys profiled — mostly doughy, middle-aged engineers — come off as characterless and boring. Dave Pericak, the chief engineer of the 2015 Mustang and Gelb’s ostensible protagonist, is particularly bland, an exceptional engineer and manager to be sure, but hardly an engrossing subject. Late in the film someone claims that “people’s personalities are reflected in what they do,” which is a more damning critique of the 2015 Mustang’s MOR aesthetic than I could provide.

  1. October 9, 2015
  2. January 2, 2016
  3. February 11, 2016
  4. February 15, 2016
  5. February 24, 2016

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