My Car Quest

November 11, 2019

Ford v Ferrari Film Review – This Movie Offers a Different View

Wallace Wyss was able to attend a preview of the new movie Ford v Ferrari a few days before its official opening. Here is his review.
Mike Gulett

by Wallace Wyss –

The trouble with most racing films is that they–the producer and director-think that the audience will be satisfied with lots of zoom-zoom shots and occasional glimpses of the race driver’s lives.

Ford v Ferrari was made by a veteran Hollywood producer and director James Mangold, who has told interviewers he’s not a car guy but knows how to tell a story.

So basically it’s a story of two guys, buddies, both car racers, and how one vaults himself into a race team organizer role and hires the other as his lead driver and development driver.

The man who propels himself from the racetrack to the office is Carroll Shelby, a tall in the saddle Texan who had so many things going in his life, it’s hard to squeeze even a bit of it into this film.

ford-v-ferrari-poster-e1559600472660

He was, in more or less chronological order, a WWII veteran, a failed chicken farmer, a self taught car racer, a horse breeder, a car builder, a big game hunter, oh, and Le Mans winner (’59 for Aston Martin). You just knew there would be a movie about him eventually.

But this is not at all an attempt at a definitive life story. No this is only a slice of his life, roughly going over a four year period from about 1962 to 1966, at a point where a major American automaker (Ford) decides to contest a leading sports car builder (Ferrari) at the 24 Heures du Mans.

Mangold manages to tell the story from a personal point of view so that, even if you know nothing about racing, you see the conflicts and sympathize with various people in the movie. Christian Bale’s portrayal of Ken Miles, the stubborn British car racer employed by Shelby, is so good that it’s hard to sympathize with this brash immigrant, who always manages to spoil his opportunities by venting his opinion.

The Miles character dominates the story, while the Shelby character is in and out of the story as he comes in to clean up Miles’ latest faux pax.

In a way it’s a traditional buddy-buddy movie, something like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In that movie too, you know someone is going to get killed in the end, so in Ford v Ferrari there’s always the Damocle’s sword of the real life fact that Miles was killed testing a car for Ford and Shelby.

Ford v. Ferrari

Christian Bale as Ken Miles

TWO FIRMS, BUT WHICH ONE IS GOLIATH?

Just as the racers on the Shelby team are fighting internally with their sponsors, Ford Motor, Ford is shown fighting with Ferrari. Jon Bernthal, the actor that plays Iacocca (he doesn’t look like him but does a great job acting) convinces Henry Ford II that, if Ford can beat Ferrari at Le Mans, it will be great for Ford’s further business ventures in Europe.

Henry Ford II in the movie says that Ford makes more cars in a day than Ferrari does in a year so you assume they are Goliath and Ferrari is David but since Ferrari has so much racing experience it’s the other way around and the whole movie is about Ford hiring Shelby to shape up their endurance racer.

As far as casting, at first, before seeing the film, I was dubious of Damon playing Shelby; as he is too short for one thing, but he played the role convincingly, and I knew the real Shelby and had seen that he could generally effect a jocular manner but, at times, he could be hard as nails.

Damon was doing the easy-goin’ aw-shucks Shelby for most of the film, but he had his hands full with Bale stealing most of their scenes. And it’s natural the audience sympathizes with Bale because you get Miles’ back story all the way through (a WWII veteran, first Africa, then Europe with the British army) and inept businessman, who alienates customers by expressing his opinions in no uncertain terms. Once Shelby signs him on as a driver, he is required to go around and put out the fires Miles has started with his unvarnished opinions.

There’s also a couples story, about Miles’ devoted wife Mollie being satisfied with her husband being a shop owner but as is shown, he can’t handle business, so he has to take a race driver job. His wife has a strong dread that Shelby is trying to involve her husband in something that is definitely on the edge, involving cars that go 200 mph plus.

Shelby’s personal life gets short shrift, though he was known as a lady’s man in this era (even marrying a lovely blonde actress). Shelby had kids too but there’s nary a mention they exist.

When people talk of Miles’ race career, they make a big deal out of him being screwed at Le Mans when Ford decided in ’66 that they are so far ahead they might as well have a dramatic 3 abreast finish. But what they didn’t know was that Miles had started ahead of McLaren on the start line so, according to FIA rules, even though Miles was leading to almost the finish line, once he dropped back to do the three-abreast finish, he would be ruled in second place. You feel for Miles that he agreed to follow the sponsor’s request instead of being the old I-make-my-own-rules Miles.

Good Action in Ford v Ferrari

Past racing movies, except for Le Mans, had a lot of the same old whoosh-whoosh flybys of cars flitting past. When they did this one they went to the trouble to build larger rigs to hold race cars, so that you get the feeling you are right down there at waist level either in the car or an adjoining one.

Ford v. Ferrari

Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby – Merrick Morton 20th century Fox

There’s a few memorable crashes, and a harrowing scene when Miles fails to get his door closed at the start of Le Mans and is driving nearly 200 mph while at the same time still trying to close the door.

For those hoping since Ferrari gets half the title that the film would feature plenty on both, it doesn’t happen. The Ferraris get only 10% on screen time and other brands get zilch.

Part of the challenge of doing this film was the many locations. According to YouTube interviews of the film’s creator James Mangold, the racing sequences were shot at many locations, some even in France but in a single sequence, the same cars might have been filmed in California, Georgia, France or California, all portraying one lap, which meant you had to match lighting and everything else.

ANTI-MANAGEMENT PREVAILS

In this film, the sponsors are portrayed as ignorant, crude businessmen. But that’s entertaining because we hafta know that an executive like Henry Ford II couldn’t know everything that’s happening down at the race team level so he has to delegate responsibility. He appoints his old basketball coach, Leo Beebe, to run the racing program (they don’t reveal in the film Beebe’s lack of race background). Tracey Letts does well portraying Henry Ford II but Josh Lucas as Leo Beebe is the more memorable, at one minute trying to tell Shelby what to do and the next minute, when Shelby’s intuition pays off, Beebe is proclaiming the success of “his” idea.

The running plot is that Beebe hates Miles but can’t get him fired from the team because Shelby has convinced HFII that he is vital.

THE ITALIAN PORTRAYALS

The Italians only get a few minutes on screen, first when they are showing Iacocca and crew through the Maranello factory and later when they are negotiating. The casting of Enzo Ferrari is perfect; the same imperious air and Machiavellian posturing. I don’t know if it’s a fact but in the film Ferrari tells Ford to leave (which did happen) but implies the reason was that Ferrari was already negotiating behind the scenes with Fiat for a takeover (which technically didn’t occur until 1969) the film implying he was also dealing with Fiat. The film also shows the Italian pit crew shouting at each other when one of their race cars breaks and they realize Ferrari is going to lose at Le Mans. Oh those Eye-talians—so emotional!

A HEARTBREAKER

Noah Jupe plays Ken Miles’ son Peter. The kid does an excellent job, and if you know in real life Ken Miles died testing at Riverside, you cringe each time there’s a scene where the son is present when his father drives.

Also certain to get a mention at Oscar time will be the portrayal of Miles’ wife, Mollie, played by Caitriona Balfe. It draws your sympathy that her husband could live a nice safe life if he gave up racing but it’s never clear how much of Miles’ zeal is due to wanting to win famous races or to simply make enough to satisfy his creditors.

There have always been racing movies. The first one I ever saw was Mickey Rooney’s The Big Wheel. That one had a fair amount of family conflict. This one, too, is planned to play to the general audience, not just to racing buffs.

Now there’s the rub. Race car fans know all the details and will point out Enzo never went to Le Mans to watch his cars race; or that the J-car they have in the film is wrong, etc. but I say Hollywood has a right to rewrite history because this is a drama. There’s already good documentaries on the same events.

Mangold surprised an interviewer on YouTube by saying he had originally put together a 3½ hour version. If that is ever available, it will be much sought after by the race car fans; model builders etc. because there, in the scenes cut out of the theatrical version, might be the answers to things like, why didn’t Ford try for faster Cobras instead of developing an all new car, etc.

Ford v Ferrari

The Ferraris get precious little onscreen time (painting by Wallace Wyss)

So we come back to the question: “Do you, Mr. Wyss, (author of three books on Shelby) like the film?” I can say I liked it on the personal story level. Basing my comments on the 2½ hour film I saw, I can say it’s a certain genre of film, like the space movies showing the trials and tribulations of early astronauts. It’s buddies in peril, only this time on racetracks instead of in outer space. It’s only a coincidence that this buddies-in-peril story takes place in the world of cars.

But you have to know that, eventually, the rags-to-riches story of one Carroll Hall Shelby was one will be told more often now that the door has been opened. I think this movie will just be the beginning. Perhaps we will see the story told at more length, maybe in a TV series, maybe going back to his beginning as a car racer (after all his chickens up and died and he decided to go to a car race and the rest his history…). A TV version could illuminate many different phases of his car building career.

Ford v Ferrari is not without flaws but opens the door to Shelby history. It is even a racing film that you could take a non-racer film buff to and they might be happy with the story.

Let us know what you think about Ford v Ferrari in the Comments (or Le Mans ’66 if you are in Europe).

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of SHELBY: The Man, the Cars, the Legend and 17 other books. As a fine artist, he is in the midst of portraying Sixties racing cars in oils. A list of prints can be sent if you request it from Mendoart7@gmail.com

 
 

 

 

Ford Logo

V

Ferrari logo

Summary
Ford v Ferrari Film Review - This Movie Offers a Different View
Article Name
Ford v Ferrari Film Review - This Movie Offers a Different View
Description
In Ford v Ferrari Damon was doing the easy-goin’ Shelby for most of the film, but he had his hands full with Bale stealing most of their scenes. And it’s natural the audience sympathizes with Bale because you get Miles’ back story.
Author

Comments

  1. Mike Kerns says

    Great write-up Wallace..
    I saw it last night also with the Petersen group at 20th Century Fox. You were probably there I just didn’t see you..They had no popcorn though!

  2. Anthony Rainone says

    If I take my Ferrari to the show, will someone key it?

Speak Your Mind

*

fsge6ed6.txt