Friday, November 22, 2019

Ford v Ferrari

The names are certainly familiar, even if you're not particularly into endurance road racing: Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca, Carroll Shelby. And maybe even Ken Miles.

All four names pop up prominently in the highly entertaining movie Ford v Ferrari, which follows Henry Ford II's (irreverently known as "Deuce" in the movie) desire to knock off perennial champion Ferrari in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans road race during  the early to mid-1960s. If successful, it's a way to make the otherwise staid Ford Motor Company into something sexy for the post-war Baby Boomers who are about to buy, umm, sexy cars like Mustangs and Thunderbirds. It's all about the bottom line, you know.

The real Ken Miles (left) and Carroll Shelby at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
So the obnoxiously controlling Ford (played by Tracy Letts) hires confident whiz kid Shelby (played by Academy Award winner Matt Damon) as his car builder, who in turn hires the maverick Miles (played by Academy award winner Christian Bale) as driver extraordinaire and head technician.

That's pretty much the plot gist of what is actually a mostly true story.

But the flick is more than a movie about auto racing. It's a story that explores, in turns, friendship, corporate interference, family, failure and success.

Consequently, the performances of Damon and Bale are especially deep, rich and character-building. Nuances are noteworthy, right down to the gum chewing. You feel like you get to know these guys as they get to know – and trust – each other. You are drawn into their world and you don't necessarily want to get out.

A Ford Mark II GT40 looks fast even while sitting still.
 And their world is remarkable. The early 1960s portrayed here coincides with the space race of NASA's heyday. The car builders, trying to find a way to eek out an extra RPM or two from their 4.7 liter Mark II GT40s, use slide rules and Scotch tape more than they do computer gigabytes. It's a remarkable era of car engineering coupled with the need for speed.

And because the movie is a period piece, you're going to enjoy seeing all those what are now classic cars tooling around in the background. Trust me. I once owned a 1966 Wimbledon white convertible Mustang and this movie got me misty-eyed – and more than once.

Although the running time approaches two-and-a-half hours, time flies by, which might not be the case if you're watching Frozen II or Arctic Dogs for 152 minutes. And while it's not all about auto racing, as I've already explained, the last half hour or so takes you to the 1966 Le Mans, virtually putting you in the cockpit with Miles, downshifting and accelerating through S-turns, hairpins and straightaways.

The movie can be exhilarating and breathtaking all at once. You might find yourself cheering, if not actually gripping the arms of your theater seat, just to hold on. Blame the compelling cinematography.

You might even find yourself downshifting.

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