Saturday, April 24, 2021

Ford v Ferrari

Whenver we get a free preview weekend from DirecTV of one or another subset of premium channels, I find myself recording a bunch of movies. During one of those weekends, I recorded Ford v Ferrari. It's going to be on HBO tomorrow morning at 9:20 AM (or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), so I recently watched it to do a review on it today.

In 1959, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race in an Aston-Martin. But upon returning to America, his doctor informs him that he has a heart valve issue that results in his having a high resting heart rate that will kill him if he keeps racing. (In real life Shelby had that issue since childhood and finally got a heart transplant in the late 1980s.) So Shelby turned to desiging racing cars.

Meanwhile, at Ford Motor Co., sales are flagging thanks to a change in taste among the American car-buying public. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a junior executive at Ford at the time (he'd become chairman in 1970, get fired in the late 70s, and move to Chrysler where he was chairman for a dozen years), comes up with the idea of going into European-style auto racing, NASCAR being a highly regional thing at the time. The first idea is to go into partnership with Ferrari, which had the best racing team at the time. But Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) is disdainful of the Americans and uses the offer to extract a higher price from Fiat. So Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to start a team to go up against Ferrari and beat them at their own game.

Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a British World War II veteran and would-be racecar driver who, in order to pay the bills, opens a garage repairing other people's cars in the Los Angeles area. Shelby finds Miles, and knowing Miles' reputation, hires Miles to test drive Shelby's cars as well as driving some of them in more local races. Miles is successful, but because of his abrasive reputation, it's going to be hard for him to work with anybody but Shelby.

This is going to be a problem because Ford, in their desire to beat Ferrari, turn to Shelby for help. Shelby is a good designer, and with Miles as a driver, is able to diagnose all of the problems with Ford's prototypes. However, the attempts to improve the prototype result in brake fade that almost kills Miles. That's going to make it difficult to get the car ready for the 1966 Le Mans, let alone have any chance to defeat Ferrari. But thanks to a lot of work and a daring wager from Shelby, not only are they ready for Le Mans, but Miles has a chance to be a driver for one of the cars.

Ford v Ferrari is based on a true story, and like most Hollywood retellings of history, it gets things wrong, although often for dramatic effect. I have no idea what these people were like in real life, although it wouldn't surprise me that, to get to the top of their chosen field, they all had to be extremely driven to the point of alienating folks around them. Damon's Shelby and Bale's Miles both display this quite well, with Iacocca being slightly less obnoxious.

I'm not a fan of auto racing to be honest, but found the portrayal of the characters in the run-up to the racing to be quite compelling. The races, however -- and the 1966 Le Mans unsurprisingly takes up a good half hour or so -- were a bit more difficult for me to get through. Part of this was that the special effects were the sort of latter-day effects that always leave me cold, as I talked about when I reviewed 1917. A bigger issue, for me, however, was the amount of Hollywood heartstring-tugging going on during the race with, among other things, constant cutting to Miles' wife and kid back in Los Angeles watching the race (which I would have thought wasn't broadcast live, and certainly not for the entire 24 hours). Others may not have a problem with this sort of story-telling.

In any case, Ford v Ferrari is definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

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