‘I’ ON CULTURE
I really liked Ford v. Ferrari, one of the best movies I saw this year. It is not an incredible film, but it certainly held my interest all the way through. It portrays a great American trait — the willingness to fight back when stepped on. And that goes not only for the average guy, but even for American aristocrats like Henry Ford II.
Ford (Tracy Letts) and his people were unhappy back in the early 1960s. Their cars were not selling well. The young people we now call baby boomers were just not interested. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) suggested doing more sports models and buying up the Italian sports car company Ferrari. His main rival at the firm, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), opposes that, but Ford sends his people to Italy, where Enzo Ferrari uses them to jack up the price of his sale to Fiat, and then insults Ford and all Americans. Ford decides to beat Ferrari at his own game and orders Iacocca to create a racecar that can defeat Ferrari’s racecars. He goes to Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the only driver to ever win at Le Mans, the most famous Formula 1 track in the world. Shelby, who can no longer race, is selling hopped-up sports cars. The offer from Ford is just too good.
Thus starts the struggle to build the ultimate sports car. Shelby hires Ken Miles (Christian Bale), the best, most fearless driver in the world, and an expert at upgrading cars, and the two men lead a team working to win Le Mans. Miles is argumentative, a real pain to everyone, and Beebe openly hates him and forces him off the team sent to France. The drivers chosen lose the race, but Shelby convinces Ford to try again, this time with Miles. The bulk of the movie consists of working to improve the car with some great shots of the big races. It all culminates with the big Le Mans race in 1966.
But essentially this is a story of the creation of a wonder racing car that eventually, in a version modified for non-racers, became the Pontiac GTO. It is a triumph of good guys over suits and ingenuity over bureaucracy. Iacocca became an American icon. Shelby went on to become legendary, working for a variety of auto companies, all of whom created “Shelby” sports models of their great cars. And Miles, well, he died doing what he loved best.
The cast is great. Damon works well as the flim-flam guy who becomes totally solid. The enthusiasm and energy Shelby brought to his work are evident. His social life is ignored (perhaps just as well, since he was married seven times). But Bale steals the picture. He is a brawling pain in the backside to almost everyone. But it was also a real treat to see him with an adoring but no-nonsense wife (Caitrona Balfe).
How often in recent years have we seen a married couple that simply love each other and provide love and support to their son (Noah Jupe)? One lovely example of how well they get on: Damon comes to Miles after a forced betrayal and the two men wind up grappling and rolling all over a small park across from Miles’ home. His wife simply takes out a beach chair and patiently watches before walking over to the two exhausted men afterward, offering each a beer. What a woman!
The rest of the cast is also strong. Bernthal as the supportive Iacocca, Lucas as the back-stabbing Beebe are really strong. And Letts was great as Henry Ford II. There is another great scene where Damon takes Ford out in their car and really races it. At first you think the older man is having a heart attack. But it turns out he’s laughing, and his first words afterward were, “I wish my grandfather [the original Henry Ford] could have seen what we’re doing.”
This is clearly a film geared more toward men than women. And, yes, that is stereotyping. The film is about male bonding and creating teams. It is also a lot of fun to watch. It is long, about two and a half hours, but it felt a lot shorter. I would not be surprised if we heard it mentioned during Oscar season.