“Ford v Ferrari” is a feel-good macho-man movie that is the perfect vehicle for 4DX. From the revving of engines to the swerve into a curve, plus some smoke special effects for the crashes, “Ford v Ferrari” is a family film about how two men took Ford from boringly reliable to a sexy win at the 24-hours Le Mans.
Based on true events, and directed with an eye for the beautiful curves and the dangerous dance with machine vulnerability by James Mangold, “Ford v Ferrari” plays like multiple grudge matches–Ford against Ferrari CEOs, PR guy Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) against expert driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and the US against the Italians. I’m wondering how this will play in Italy.
At the center if Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), an American who’s always chewing gum. When he stops, he’s going to say something serious. He’s been forced due to potential heart attack risk to retire from racing, and now finds himself selling cars and himself while managing racers like Brit Ken Miles. Miles is a war vet with a hot-temper and a loving wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and adoring young son Peter (Noah Jupe).
While Ken is away racing, the IRS comes and shutters his repair shop. Shelby isn’t doing much better when Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) has an idea. Make Fords sexy. At first, Ford tries to buy the broke Ferrari, but Lee and Leo Beebe are played by the Italians who walk away for dinner and a deal with Fiat. Angered at insulted delivered by proxy, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to put up as much cash as it takes to assemble a team to make a Ford that can beat the back-to-back reigning champs of Le Mans.
The script by by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, sets up Beebe as the heavy. He’s against the talented Miles, played with annoying attitude by Bale, because he’s unpredictable, sullen and doesn’t project the solid reliability of “Ford man.” The script has them clashing from the start, with Beebe taking umbrage to the “class” of the man on sight and, much worse, warns off Peter from touching a new display model car. Despite his anger management issues, Miles is shown to be more tolerant and less vindictive. You can debate about the actual personality problems and conflict between the Miles and Beebe in real life. Time magazine and the Hollywood Reporter both look at the truth.
The real affront at the end of the race is to racing and sports on Beebe orders. Beebe wanted a photo for the finish and he got it. It cost Miles and likely made Americans hated everywhere at the time. The spiteful grudge match between the two men seems more like a Hollywood crutch to provide suspense and emotional tension.
Mangold visually sets up the tragedy of Miles and reminds us repeatedly of the dangers of racing and the tech talk tells us why while beguiling us with the tales of the Zen aspects of the perfect speed and the perfect loop in what was, at the time, a man’s world. Miles and Shelby aren’t glad to have money to do what they want–produce the perfect racer. They become pawns in other men’s grudge matches.
In the end, big isn’t better, and the two men don’t walk away unscarred. In reality, Ford v Ferrari was both a win and a lose, but the film itself, “Ford v Ferrari is a win, especially in 4DX.