By CYNTHIA BIDDLECOMB
“Ford v. Ferrari” is an enjoyable new, two-and-a-half-hour-long film about auto racing in the 1960s.
It features strong performances from two Oscar-winning actors, Matt Damon and Christian Bale, who apparently had a lot of fun playing off each other.
Ford v. Ferrari is a “based on a true story” tale of Carroll Shelby (Damon), a car designer and one-time winning driver at LeMans. In the mid-1960s, Shelby gets talked into helping the Ford Motor Company create a car fast enough and durable enough to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. To make this possible, Shelby invites into the project his friend, the irascible race car driver and engineering mechanic Ken Miles (Bale). It is the friendship of these two men that provides the emotional foundation of this film.
These two World War II veterans, the products of trade schools and just down and dirty experience, had to prove to “those college boys” that they knew what they were doing when it came to designing a winning car.
In the story, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) had challenged his employees to come up with ideas to make Fords more popular. A young Lee Iacocca (John Bernthal), one of the “suits” working for him, convinces Mr. Ford that young people are wanting to drive cars that have more muscle and a James Bond look. To make the point, in the background during this conversation, the assembly line is churning out Ford Falcons, which are dependable cars, but not very exciting. By the end of the film we see Ford Mustangs rolling off the line and into American lives.
Ford gives Iacocca the go ahead, so he goes to Shelby and pitches his offer: a nearly unlimited budget to build a car that will beat Ferrari at LeMans. Shelby asks Miles to join the effort, but Ken has doubts about the timetable they’ve been given. He warns Shelby that the men in suits around Mr. Ford are going to thwart his efforts. The knowledge of the unlimited budget finally wins Miles over. But it’s not smooth going between them, by any means.
Ken Miles, as a character, may be difficult to get along with, but he has a lovely, understanding and supportive wife, named Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), and an adoring pre-teen son named Peter (Noah Jupe). Though they struggle to make ends meet on a mechanic’s wages, the Miles family has each other to rely on. Mollie and Peter round out the character of Ken, grounding him in the most difficult moments, and making him much more likeable to the audience.
Ford v. Ferrari took first place in the box office its first weekend, to the surprise of many critics and prognosticators. It seems that a good, old fashioned, historical tale can still create box office buzz. What’s not to love? This film provides the suspense of the races at Daytona and LeMans, the competition between famous car makers, a real depth to its characters, and technical talk about cars. It is beautifully realized on the screen, as well. So, give it a chance to win you over, and to teach you some history about Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. Ford v. Ferrari is “Rated PG-13 for some language and peril.” Men did die on those racetracks, you know.