Ford v. Ferrari Review – Palpable Emotion, Hard Charging Racing Film, A Sure Winner

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Ford v. Ferrari, from Twentieth Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment, presents the true story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, and how they would build a Ford to race against Ferrari at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Directed by James Mangold, Ford v. Ferrari stars Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Ray McKinnon, JJ Feild, Adam Mayfield, Remo Girone, Benjamin Rigby, Alex Gurney, Jenelle McKee, Marisa Petroro and Fatimah Hassan.


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The film opens with auto racer and designer Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, racing at Le Mans, the prestigious 24-hour race, which has, up to that time in history had never been won by an American Over the next few minutes of the film, history changes and Carroll Shelby becomes the first American to win at Le Mans.

Following this monumental feat, we are with him as the doctor explains his medical condition has made racing impossible not now, not ever. The finality of the news, of course, fuels the risk in him as he pulls into traffic, racing through the Hollywood Hills.

While Shelby is digesting this undignified ending to his racing career, racer Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale, one of the best drivers and mechanics in the industry, who left the sport for love, was explaining to a client that he really didn’t know how to handle the vehicle, and as it was Los Angeles, the exotic auto shop was frequented by Hollywood types who really should be driving a sedan, or something sturdy as he so eloquently explains.

Just then we meet Mollie Miles, played by Caitriona Balfe, who is the reason her husband, who is world renowned is standing in an oil pit and tolerating countless arrogant interactions instead of racing.


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As these two have settled into the new normal, Henry Ford II, “The Duce,” played by Tracy Letts, is listening to a marketing meeting presented by Lee Iacocca, played by Jon Bernthal, who is stumbling through an idea on the new car consumer, when Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas, Ford’s right hand man, cuts him off.

Beebe is all about image. Iacocca about the future and Ford about making sure the world sees his company as a global competitor. With Ferrari winning Le Mans for the fifth straight year, the Ford Board decide to send an envoy to present an offer to Enzo Ferrari, played by Remo Girone, whom is reportedly low on cash and looking for a buyer. With the Ford team sitting in the office, Renault makes a counteroffer and the deal falls through. As he is leaving the office, he explains, “Ford makes ugly cars in ugly factories.”

Ford, after hearing exactly what Ferrari said about the factory his dad built, made a single statement that sets up the rest of the film, “We are going to bury Ferrari at Le Mans.” Essentially take down the king on his own turf.

Leo Beebe, the image man and an armchair racing enthusiast, is put in charge of Ford Racing and as Carroll Shelby is the only American to win at Le Mans he becomes Ford’s heir apparent to lead the team through to the win. Fully funded by Ford, Shelby was pulling in the best designers, drivers, mechanics and Ken Miles was on the short list.


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Once the team is established, the film is all about the building of the impossible dream. Once the terms are understood even the most skeptical are won over and every improvised skill used to make the car faster is implemented. Miles, of course, as the 200 club man, is behind the wheel. With the racers doing what they love the process is smooth, when the boardroom enters it becomes a chaotic, damaging, mess of egos.

This is where the film really takes off. It is engaging from the beginning as each of the characters become the role. The ensemble performances create palpable emotion and reaction.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale each deliver high caliber performances. Tracy Letts, as Henry Ford II, delivers another strong and memorable role. Restrained throughout, his scene stealing test drive, is a screen gem. He is better with each performance.


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Possibly as it was 1966, a gentler time in America the cutthroat business tactics, and just plain viciousness of the Leo Beebe character, was not expected. Played by Josh Lucas, his undercutting, circumventing, pretentious portrayal creates reactionary responses.

Ford v. Ferrari is propelled by the larger than life real story behind this recreation. The hard charging, testosterone filled, booster powered, thrill ride is a sure winner.

Ford v. Ferrari opens Friday, November 15, 2019.

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