Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #29 – Ford V. Ferrari

Posted: April 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Okay, for this one I’m just going to let you in on several related little secrets…my mother asserted car as my first word. Love driving them, except when I have to deliver your pizza or proof of service (a story for another day and another blog). Slightly know what I’m talking about when the hood’s up; comes from that one time it was still possible to change out an alternator on a motor where said part was at the top of the block.

Get gently yelled at over the size of my Matchbox/Hot Wheels collection by that sister sort of acting like Marie Kondo right now pretty much daily. Went kart racing just enough times to fake it for the story. Used to know the Indy Car guys backwards and forwards, less so F1 and Endurance. Whined really loudly when Mom decreed Speed Racer (unless it’s a G-Damn slow news day and I’m loaded respect for the anime says I’ll never comment on the live action here) to be too violent.

Have pulled Reverse J-Turns during my misspent youth. Have Deathrace 2,000 memorized even to the level of laughing at all references to – “the evil French.” And my first major series protagonist didn’t go pro because she liked writing better.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Ford GT-40, the subject of the movie Ford V. Ferrari is my single favorite closed-wheel car that didn’t appear in Speed Racer? From your perspective, objectivity just left the building with Elvis. Good thing, it’s verifiably a great movie…

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There isn’t really anything bad to say about this mostly true semi-tragic buddy movie about a driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), and his good friend builder and former driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), teaming up to spend Ford Motor Company’s money to give the hated Enzo Ferrari a metaphorical punch in the nose in the pasta rocket manufacturer’s home break sport of endurance racing, specifically the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All because the Italian gentleman called Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) fat and his cars and factory ugly when Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) reports back from the failure to woo Ferrari from Fiat.

And so it’s a story about boys and their cars. Complete with that special gleam we get when we have the wagon just so. And the somewhat difficult personalities associated with doing cars at the top of the game. A movie where two headstrong personalities throw wrenches and fists at each other all to get that last ounce of performance and air flow over the car body.

Matt Damon as Shelby quickly becomes the translator between the pure driver of Christian Bale as Miles and the business-oriented executives at Ford put in charge of the team. Primarily, this plays out with Josh Lucas playing Leo Beebe, a senior VP likely to insist that Ken Miles “just isn’t a Ford type driver,” during the GT40’s disastrous first year (1965) racing at Le Mans. Shelby apparently solved the problem by going around Leo Beebe and taking Mr. Ford out for a spin in the car…leaving him crying in the shotgun seat. A highlight of the movie.

All throughout 1966, problems with the car, mostly brakes bedevil the team headquartered at LAX. Solutions come from everywhere in the team including redesigning the entire braking system for easy replacement, something that had never exactly been done before under the Le Mans rules. The creative interpretation of – “gentlemen, the rulebook says part and changing out the entire brake system is a part.” – is one of the other highlights of the movie.

Of course, it being a movie and not a Wide World of Sports special, we do have to come off the track and do a little bit of storytelling in rooms, houses and cars. Mostly we get to see Ken Miles’s relationship with his wife, Mollie Miles (Caitrona Balfe), and son Peter (Noah Jupe). We get to see that Ken Miles was really too good at cars without much businessman in him to keep his garage in the Valley from going belly up.

A marriage where the wife drops the hammer on the family Ford station wagon on a lonely two-lane blacktop road revealing that professional drivers really hate being passengers is interesting in the best of times. The scenes with Peter reveal a deep abiding familial love where the idea is to share passion and perhaps a few skills.

And then we finally get to Le Mans 1966, where Ford takes three separate GT40 teams to the endurance race. Once the race officials agree with the Ford interpretation of the rulebook concerning ripping out the whole brake assembly, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that all three Fords will take the top three finishes at the race, especially with all the Ferraris killing themselves before the finish.

Even at this late date, all is not perfect in the race. The cars were driven differently with some teams keeping to the company directives as to how fast and hard to drive the car. Meanwhile, Carroll Shelby puts 7,000+RPM on the chalkboard for Ken Miles, letting him drive full out. Leo Beebe then hits on a “great idea” to slow Miles down so the other Fords can catch up for the great picture of all the Fords crossing the finish line at the same time. I remain surprised that this character agreed.

Anyway, Ford v. Ferrari is exactly what you expect, a racing movie with all the crashes, cool maneuvers and drama in the pits where people do sometimes die. Filmmakers know all the tricks like getting the right music and making the cars look beautiful even disintegrating after pranging in Turn 3. Good thing the real story happening off the appears to have been as equally able to hold the viewer’s interest. A worthy rental…

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