Monday, December 16, 2019

Ford v. Ferrari

I broke a recent at-the-movies dry spell last night and went to see this movie. It's about how Henry Ford III struck back at a certain Modena, Italy based auto manufacturer you may know of, who turned down an offer to buy his company in an insulting manner. Ford, the CEO of his granddaddy's car manufacturing giant, listened to the advice of a bright young executive named Lee Iacocca and started a racing program in partnership with race car designer Carroll Shelby, who in 1959 had been the first American to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans before having to quit racing due to a heart condition. Shelby designed the Ford GT40 (which would go on to collect all four Le Mans wins by any American car) with input from a rough-around-the-edges British driver named Ken Miles, whose dominating performance in the 1966 Le Mans the movie goes on to dramatize.

The movie makes excellent use of its cast, including Matt Damon as Shelby, Christian Bale as Miles, Jon Bernthal as Iacocca, Josh Lucas as a Ford exec whose face you want to punch, Caitriona Balfe (of TV's Outlander) as Mrs. Miles, and more faces that may be more or less familiar to constant TV and movie watchers. The film depicts Lucas' character as the one who sticks it to Miles in the end, but let's not spoil it more than that.

I thought this movie does a great job depicting the excitement of auto racing – as well as the frustration, the danger, the heartbreak and a whole complex tangle of other feelings. Besides the engineering breakthroughs that put the GT40 over the top, it also shows an intergenerational struggle for the soul of American car manufacturing, personality conflicts between grown men, the struggles and triumphs of a working-class family and the levels of gamesmanship that go way, way up above the race track.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Shelby's staff traps Lucas in the office, giving Shelby an opportunity to take Henry III in a spin in their race car. After experiencing land speeds he has never dreamt of, as well as sharp corners and a screeching halt, Ford bursts into tears. At first you're laughing, because you think he's crying from being scared half to death, and Shelby has kind of put him in his place. Then he says something to the effect, "I wish my grandfather could have experienced this. The exiliration!" And suddenly he's totally on board with Shelby's program (which is, simply put, to have Miles anchor their driving team). (2) Shelby and Miles get into a fist fight on the street, and Mrs. Miles sits down on the stoop to watch with apparent enjoyment. (3) Miles' happiness when he realizes that he has the race clinched – a moment of joy so fragile that you already know it's going to be taken away from him before you understand how the trick is done.

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