It is very rare that I find myself leaning forward, heart pounding, willing an event that isn't even happening in the world to work out a certain way while watching a movie in the theater. Technically that didn't happen once in this movie. It happened twice. And knowing that I was sitting in a theater did nothing to change that condition. This movie was that good.
Although, in truth this movie should not have been named Ford Vs. Ferrari. It should have been named Shelby American Vs. Ford Piss-ants and Ferrari.
The movie starts by showing Ford making overtures at Ferrari. It skips the fact that Fiat had actually been bank rolling Ferrari for years to add the drama of Enzo Ferrari using Ford to up his price. In reality Fiat did not buy Ferrari for a few more years. But, drama right?
Then we meet Ken Miles (Portrayed by Christian Bale) and Carol Shelby (played by Matt Damon) on the racetrack. You immediately sense that these are close friends that don't often see eye to eye on how to handle situations. Or each other. But, they both do love racing, and they care about getting the job done.
SHelby is then approached by Ford to build their race car. It's no surprise that he does so in the most American way possible. Of course, he brings Miles in on the project. Unfortunately, Miles had already made an impression on the Ford exec overseeing the project. Not a good impression. that exec, Leo Beebe (Portrayed by Josh Lucas) proceeds to do everything he can to keep Miles as far from the racetrack as he can. Despite the fact that the man is the best racer they have by far, and has been a driving force in the design of the car.
This sets into play a tug of war that creates a lot of tension in the characters. But, by the end, neither Ford, nor Ferrari are able to stop the team from dominating La Mans. Near the end of which Beebe has the brainstorm of having all the GT-40's come across the finish at the same time. The problem: Miles is over a lap ahead of his peers. He'd have to slow down, which is clearly not in any race-car driver's blood. Both Shelby and Miles are very much against it. Shelby even tells miles its his call. And Miles makes it clear that he's not going to slow up.
He makes this abundantly clear by roaring out of the pit as he starts his last stint of this twenty-four hour race. But, as he nears the end, all alone he has a change of heart. Despite his stubborn nature, despite his racer's instinct, he slows to wait for the rest of the Ford team.
Unfortunately a technicality causes this to give his teammate the win. Remember: La Mans is about the distance you can travel in 24 hours, not who crosses the finish line first. Miles's car, being further forward than Mclaren's at the beginning of the race, covered less ground.
Miles takes this incredibly well, quickly shifting from feeling cheated to what they can do to the GT-40's for the next race season. This leads into to his death, testing the new upgrades, a few weeks later.
Surprisingly, this movie stays quite close to history. It gets, not just the broad strokes, but the medium strokes correct. There are some minor details adjusted, like the fact that Phil Remington (Played by Ray McKinnon) had been working on the project for more than a year before Shelby was brought in. or the fact that Shelby pitched his addition to the team to Ford, not the other way around.
The biggest adjustment to history seems to be the rivalry between Miles and Beebe. Based on what I've read, both characters seemed to be exaggerated. While Remington did complain about Beebe's tenancy to micromanage, there is no evidence that he actively tried to keep Miles from racing. In fact, it was miles that took Ford The Second on his ride in the GT40. Beebe did come up with the 1-2-3 finish, but officials initially informed them that Miles would still be the winner. It was with an hour left that they informed the Ford team of the technicality that would rob miles of his well deserved win. Whether Beebe was aware of this at the outset or not is unclear, but what is clear is that he preferred the photogenic (and let's face it; that is a powerful statement) win to miles gaining the triple crown of winning la mans, Sebring, and Daytona all in one year.
Shelby was also for the photogenic finish (I just love typing that) as well, although i'd guess he wasn't told about the change. He regretted his support greatly after Miles's death.
Really my only complaint is that Beebe didn't get his in this movie. Then again, the real person didn't either. Granted, he was most likely not near the ass hat we saw on the big screen, but it still feels like a loose thread.
As a story about one of the best racers and mechanics of his time, this movie comes across with a bittersweet aftertaste. As a movie about friendship, loyalty, and 'getting it done', it is a powerful adventure. This movie blends both of those feelings very well.
Ford Vs. Ferrari was one of the best movies of this year, sure to bring in a slew of awards. Every actor nailed their roles, but Christian Bale gives his best performance to date of a man who was of the salt of the earth. Hell, I didn't even know Bale could speak much above a whisper before this movie came out. The writing was crisp. The characters engaging. The revisions all helped to make for a more dramatic movie without sacrificing the underlying story. I give this movie a 94%.