Based on a true story, the plot of the film follows an eccentric determined Ford team, lead by Carroll Shelby and British Driver Ken Miles. They are hired by Henry Ford and Lee Iacocca to build a new racing car, one that will beat the dominant Ferrari racing team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.
I had an interest in this film since it was announced to be one of the award bait films of the season. I am also aware that this movie is “based on a true story,” so there could be changes to the story for dramatic effect. Ford V Ferarri was one of the best films that I’ve seen this year. Although the film felt slow and long at times, I was engaged the whole time watching the movie. The acting was excellent, with Matt Damon and Christian Bale giving some solid performances. The racing was exciting, and I didn’t feel like I was left out with understanding what was going on at any time in the movie. It was strange that the film seemed to have two endings when it was fine with how it could have ended, but it made sense despite that the film could have ended after the race that inspired the event.
The following article contains spoilers from this point on.
I didn’t know anything about racing, this event, Le Mans or the 1966 24 hrs of Le Mans race. I was familiar with the name Carroll Shelby and the Shelby name, and that was about it going into the film. I think that having an unfamiliarity with the story did help me to enjoy this movie. It made of a somewhat predictable and even surprise story. If you know what happens or is going to happen, then this story isn’t going to be for you, but the performances are more than worth the price of admission.
Besides Carroll Shelby, I wasn’t familiar with any of the characters in the movie. Matt Damon played Carroll Shelby, a real-life racecar builder and driver, who was forced to retire due to a heart condition. He did win the Le Mans in 1959. Christian Bale was Ken Myles, the driver of the Ford GT40 at the 24 hours of LeMans in 1966. Both actors were excellent in their roles. Matt Damon plays a great Caroll Shelby. His performance felt believable as Shelby always seemed to have something to prove. Christian Bale’s got the part of Ken Myles down. I read that Myles had a pronounced Brummie Accent, a vague and sarcastic sense of humor. Bale had the role down to a T in his dialogue and performance. He even talks out of the side of his mouth. Something that I thought was strange, but I also read Ken Myles, was known as “Sidebite” since he talked out of the side of his mouth.
One performance that impressed me the most was Tracey Letts playing Henry Ford II. The CEO of Ford, whenever he was on the screen, he always seemed to have a commanding presence, which should be since he is the owner of Ford. There were times when He was able to be threatening. One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Carroll had to answer to Ford why his team didn’t finish the 1964 Le Mans race. This part of the movie was also a well-shot scene with camera placement, actor placement, and the deliverance was one of the best and most compelling points of the film. He also even had a sympathy turn that worked with the story. Ford came down with Leo Beebe, a VP for Ford who took over the Racing Division. Beebe, who was looking for any reason to prevent Myles from driving and winning for Ford. Shelby convinced Ford to let Miles drive by giving him a ride in the GT 40 MK II. That Myles was the only person, who could handle driving this kind of power. The way that Ford laughs and cries after riding in the car seemed to express many emotions in just two of them was great to watch.
There were a lot of well-shot camera angles and cinematography moments in the movie. I find it hard to talk about aspects shots in a film on one viewing, but they stand out the first time you see them. When you were watching a race, you felt like you were in the crowd watching the race. When you watch Ken Myles driving, you got a sense of the driver seat going 200 miles an hour. Even the gruesome car crashes and accidents had incredible shots and framed well. I did look it up, and a lot of racing in the 1960s was pretty brutal. There weren’t as many safety regulations that existed like today. There weren’t any crashes that could have made you jump out of your seat or be horrified about, but they were visually stunning to see and watch.
There is a story that makes the film stand out beyond Ford V Ferarri. The effort that Carroll and Ken when through to race in Le Mans. There was a lot of struggle for Carroll and Ken getting to Le Mans. Ford had a VP Leo Beebe. He seemed to be the antagonist who’d try to prevent Myles from racing because he did not fit the Ford Image. There were several attempts to stop Myles, but there always was a reason for Myles to race for Ford. When they weren’t at odds with Ford, they also had to fight to Ferarri. Not only did they have a superior car, but extensive knowledge of rules and regulations to try and stop Ford from winning. It kind of like the title of the film should have been Shelby and Miles vs. Ford and Ferrari. The conflict was my question of what was based on a true story or not in the film. The only truth I could find was Ford’s call to have all three Ford cars to finish the race. It was a repetitive but intense story of a conflict that I enjoyed watching.
The film does have two endings. It would have been fine with just covering Ford’s win in the 24 hours at Le Mans, but it does cover the tragic death of Ken Myles while testing the J Car. While Important, the film could have left this out. The movie did have a good ending, which could have stood with the tragic death scene. After Myles was told to do a three-way finish, and Carroll said that is his choice whether he wanted to comply or not. There was a great scene where Myles had a realization that he wasn’t going to win. Despite setting many laps records at Le Mans, Myles still lost due to a technicality. But before the finish, he knew that he accomplished more than what he could with the help of Shelby and got to race at Le Mans and Daytona. This was a satisfying ending for me, but understand the impact of showing Miles dying testing the newer car two months later.
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