FORD V FERRARI” DELIVERS MORE THAN HIGH-OCTANE THRILLS
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“FORD V FERRARI” (Rated PG-13)The title of “Ford v Ferrari” points to competitive racing but there’s so much more to this exciting film than the high-speed 200 miles per hour chases on the premier racetracks in America and overseas.
It’s the acrimonious clash between automotive industry titans Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) that fuels the desire of the American manufacturer to upend Ferrari’s dominance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
A young hotshot Ford executive by the name of Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) pitches the idea that the post-World War II generation of young people are searching for automobiles that are more powerful, sexy and not the bland imitations of the Fifties models.
While his slide presentation doesn’t excite the other suits in the boardroom, Iacocca leads a delegation to Italy to present an offer to buy the Italian luxury sports car company, which Enzo Ferrari dismisses with contempt by spewing graphic slurs of Henry Ford II.
For Henry Ford II to entertain a challenge to Ferrari, which has been fueled by Ferrari’s insults that he is “fat” and that Ford Motor Company makes “ugly little cars in ugly factories,” he has to find the right team.
Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the fearless Texan who beat the Ferrari team and won the Le Mans race in 1959, which proved to be the end of his racing career as he was shortly thereafter diagnosed with a grave heart condition.
Endlessly resourceful, Shelby reinvents himself as a car designer and salesman working out of warehouse space in Venice Beach with a team of engineers, led by Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon), and a crew of mechanics.
Next to Shelby, the other key player in the race world is the prickly British race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who operates a repair shop for foreign cars. He’s not exactly a people person and frequently offends his customers for not being savvy drivers.
The friendship between Shelby and Miles is marked by occasional conflicts when they come to blows, but they need each other to function as a team because Shelby can no longer race and Miles is like a race car whisperer who can take any car to the 7,000 RPM limit.
The Ford Motor Company recruits the firebrand visionary to design the ultimate race car, a machine that can beat even Ferrari, the perennial winner at Le Mans, on the unforgiving French track.
The early stages of the relationship that Shelby has with Henry Ford II hit rough spots due to heavy-handed corporate interference and the laws of physics that hinder the process of obtaining perfection in building the appropriate race car.
Worse still for Shelby, Miles and the ragtag crew of mechanics is that Henry Ford II has designated his right-hand man, senior vice president Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), to oversee Ford’s racing program.
While Shelby’s team is developing and testing the race cars in the Ford program, the lead test driver Ken Miles, who is brilliant behind the wheel but also blunt, arrogant and unwilling to compromise, complicates the relationship with the corporate suits.
In particular, because there is a need to juice up the tensions with one person filling the role of the villain, Beebe does his best to manipulate Shelby and box-out Miles at every turn.
Adhering to the corporate playbook, Beebe doesn’t want the irascible Miles to be the poster boy for the Ford brand, dismissing him as a “beatnik” until Shelby retorts that Miles doesn’t fit that profile because he courageously drove tanks during World War II.
To be sure, Miles is rough around the edges but he’s a devoted family man to his supportive wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and their young son Peter (Noah Jupe), who idolizes his dad and dreams of racing cars someday.
Along the way, there is plenty of gamesmanship between the Shelby team and Ford’s buttoned-up corporate executives, such as the time Shelby outfoxes Beebe in order to take Henry Ford II for a hair-raising test drive.
Following some failed attempts on the racetrack, the Shelby team eventually delivers the impressive and thrilling racing sequences that would eventually lead to the most satisfying victory at the 1966 Le Mans.
Getting to know the characters behind the stunning coup that knocked Ferrari off its dominant perch at the world’s most exclusive racing event is really the most fun of “Ford v Ferrari.”
The job of director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) was made easier by the teaming of Matt Damon and Christian Bale as the lead characters who inhabit their roles, respectively, of the easy-going visionary and the caustic loose cannon who has problems with authority.
While car racing is a dangerous sport that is evident from the inevitable crash scenes, “Ford v Ferrari” delivers plenty of humor and witty zingers that come naturally in a highly competitive environment when tensions need a relief valve.
“Ford v Ferrari” deserves a winner’s trophy for delivering a solid entertainment.