My Car Quest

October 18, 2019

Review of The First Reviews of Ford v. Ferrari


EDITOR’S NOTE: Normally we would wait until Nov. 15th, when the film premieres in the U.S. but since reviews are already being run by those who saw it in advance, we asked our Shelby/GT40 expert (author of three books on the subject) to review the reviews.
Mike Gulett

by Wallace Wyss –

One of the first reviews to hit print was that in Variety, an entertainment trade publication. Theirs, by Peter Debruge, was run August 30, 2019 after their reporter saw the movie at the Telluride Film Festival. He summarizes the plot as: “Playing colorful 1960s racing icons, Christian Bale and Matt Damon try to convince their bosses at Ford that the company can win Le Mans in this Horatio Alger-esque American success story.”

Ford v. Ferrari

Christian Bale as Ken Miles

Right at the outset Debruge says it is not so much about the two automakers as rivals but about the interactions of the Carroll Shelby character, played by Matt Damon, and his ace race driver/development driver Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale.

Debarge, who I don’t think has any background as an auto race reporter, postulates;

Shelby had bested Ferrari once before, winning Le Mans in 1959 behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, but was benched soon after on account of a bum ticker, so he turned to his best driver to develop and commandeer the car that would do the feat. Miles was more of a wild card, a British tank commander who’d survived World War II but went on to become a daredevil racer, pushing his cars to the limit on the track. Miles once quipped, “I’d rather die in a racing car than get eaten up by cancer”.

Debarge is right about Shelby winning LeMans but his motivations for taking over Ford GT development wasn’t just so he could beat Ferrari, it was also because that was his job and Ford at the time was marketing his Cobra sports car and upcoming Shelby Mustang cars.

The reviewer does highlight what is probably the strong part of the 2½ hour saga, saying Bale and Damon “channel those two speed freaks in all of their surly, testosterone-spitting glory is a reminder of how much fun it was to watch Bale play a similar character opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter.”

Debarge believes, as I do, that the best sports movies don’t waste time in the intricacies of the sport but tell the story through personalities. Apparently the home life of Miles was precarious, Debarge saying both characters, “face greater obstacles back home than they do on the famous French course.”

Debarge knew that a large segment of the audience for this film will be those that want to see the racing action. He says that director James Mangold did indeed “balance the burnt-rubber thrill of the sport with scenes in which the two men butt heads with their corporate overlords about how to get the job done.”

Ford v Ferrari Poster

But Debarge said Ferrari sure got the short end of the stick, not as much screen time about conflicts at their end. He even describes it as an employee vs management conflict “(it) seems to be between the dynamic racing duo and the American moneybags who hired them.”

The Variety reviewer does credit the Director for telling the story chronologically, that Henry Ford II got rebuffed by Enzo Ferrari when he wanted to buy the Italian firm, and that’s why he started his own plan to build a car that could humble Ferrari ad the world’s most important car race.

The Variety reviewer struggles over which firm in this movie is David and which is Goliath, as Ford was many times bigger than Ferrari though he accepts the Director’s “read” on history that Ford “is also granted underdog status because it’s never built a car that could best a Ferrari.”

According to the Variety reviewer the Ford execs are really portrayed as “know-nothing Ford bureaucrats. I have written three histories of Shelby American but don’t remember ever hearing what this movie , according to this reviewer, contends, that “(Ford) were against sending the hot-tempered Miles to Le Mans, and maybe they were, but there’s a little too much creative license at play in the version of history the movie presents.”

The trouble with making a racing movie for a general public that isn’t in the know on race cars is that it could bore them. And Variety’s reporter does say his most devastating line “the only thing louder than the engines were the snores at the film’s Telluride premiere. Maybe it was all the formula family drama with Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitrona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) that bored those overheard napping. In any case, they seemed to sit up for the final stretch, when Mangold’s filmmaking most impresses.”

Ford GT40 - art by Wallace Wyss

Ford GT40 – art by Wallace Wyss

Variety’s reviewer maintains the publicity line that no CGI was used in the film but even in the trailer, where they show a Ferrari prototype flipping, I can see CGI. Let’s hope there’s less than in the other classic race films.

The Variety reporter did like the acting. Though admitting Shelby gets most of the “meat confrontations” which is of course true life because Shelby dealt with the Ford brass, not Miles.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has a list of his Shelby related art prints that are available for purchase. To be mailed the list write mendoart7@gmail.com

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The new trailer is below.

 

 

Dan Gurney in the Targa, '64 - art by Wallace Wyss

Dan Gurney in the Targa, ’64 – art by Wallace Wyss

427 Shelby Cobra - art by Wallace Wyss

427 Shelby Cobra – art by Wallace Wyss

Summary
Review of The First Reviews of Ford v. Ferrari
Article Name
Review of The First Reviews of Ford v. Ferrari
Description
Normally we would wait until Nov. 15th, when the film premieres in the U.S. but since reviews are already being run by those who saw it in advance, we asked our Shelby/GT40 expert (author of three books on the subject) to review the reviews.
Author

Comments

  1. The anticipation is driving me crazy….I can’t wait to see this movie!!!!🎉🎉🎉🎉

  2. wallace wyss says

    All of us gearheads are waiting, but now that Disney owns it (they bought out Fox which produced it) there’s always the slim possibility that if it’s a hit, they may add a theme on this LeMans racing deal to one of their theme parksmuch as Disneyland basically adds a section each time they have a hit movie. So ideally, a few years from now we can go to Disneyland and to the new/old LeMans village, and oh, yes, which car shall we drive (i.e. what year will they pick for the theme) and of course there will be period clothing in the adjacent shoppes, and maybe even French food in the outdoor restaurants….

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