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It’s not all thumbs up for ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Our staff shares its reactions after watching the movie

Editor’s note: Instead of assigning one person to review the Ford v Ferrari movie, we sent our staff to the theater and present here their reactions to the movie.

Bob Golfen:

Even Marci liked Ford v Ferrari.  That’s some big praise when my wife not only enjoys a racing film but thought it was exciting and even inspiring. And at nearly 2-and-half hours, not at all too long. 

Ford v Ferrari does have a great story to tell, one well-known to racing fans but still fresh in the Hollywood-style presentation, with big-name actors playing the roles of the bigger-than-life historic figures, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles.   Matt Damon does a convincing Shelby-style Texas twang and all, though not coming across nearly as cantankerous as the Cobra legend could be.  

Christian Bale steals the show as the single-minded Miles, dramatically portraying the exceptional motorsports talent with flinty grace.   

Although, the real star of the film is the terrific racing action, fast and loud, and with an emotional urgency as intense as the GT40s that carry the story to its finish.  The violence and confusion of crashes during competition, and the claustrophobic scenes with Miles in the cockpit, were incredibly well-done. 

Ford v Ferrari is a wonderful film that will take its place as one of the greatest of racing movies, although not without a few obvious flaws.   To wit, there’s no way that Carrol Shelby took Henry Ford II on a wild ride in a GT40 that drove the chief to tears. And no one believes that Shelby and Miles had a goofy fistfight tussle in a public park.  

The legendary Lee Iacocca was an important figure at Ford, but he was not part of the mission to Italy to negotiate with Enzo Ferrari.  And was Leo Beebe really such a diabolical villain? 

But what was most glaring, at least for me, came right at the end as the three GT40s crossed the finish line at Le Mans, pretty much three abreast.  Photos of that historic moment are familiar and well-known, and they document the staggered position of the cars at the finish, which is quite unlike what’s shown in the film.  That would have been easy to duplicate, and it annoyed me that they would get such a simple thing wrong. 

Still, the basic story was well told and the videography was absolutely delightful.  And that racing action, great stuff.  

Movie poster

Jim McCraw:

Like many other automotive and racing journalists, I saw a fair number of flaws. First of all, the casting of Tracy Letts as HFII in 1966 was a long way away from reality, as HFII was nowhere near that grey at the time.  He was only 49 years old.  Second, Ford World Headquarters does not have 19 floors as the dialog said.  It has 12.  The view of Dearborn from the top floor doesn’t and didn’t look anything like that, and neither does the Dearborn test track.  Anyone who worked at Ford for 10 years as I did would have noticed all of that.

I don’t know why the director spent so much time showing shifting and downshifting, but I can tell you for sure that the clutch and shifter mechanisms in those cars did not make that kind of amplified hammering-on-a bucket racket.

I thought the racing footage from the 1966 Le Mans was weak, with only a handful of cars shown in any given shot when there were mobs of cars racing together all the time.  Two cars, alone, on the Mulsanne Straight? Lap after lap?  Nah.  The jousting and touching between Miles and Bandini was overcooked.  And I thought the movie made Leo Beebe look like an ass-kissing idiot, which he was not.

I also didn’t give much credit to the movie for not being more specific about the other drivers in the other Ford cars. And, an entire movie about Carroll Shelby without a single F-bomb?

I’d give it a C-minus.

Andy Reid:

The key to Ford v. Ferrari is to suspend your disbelief over some of the inaccuracies. Yes, there are a number of things that will annoy those seriously involved in the car community, and especially Shelby and Ford people. However, do your best to forget that and just watch the movie. 

This is an excellent racing film, I would say possibly the best racing film we have seen in decades, and up there with my all-time favorite, Grand Prix. Even when compared with a modern film like Rush, Ford v. Ferrari is both more accessible for non-car people as well as more entertaining. 

 It captures an era of sports car racing that is long past, a time when drivers were really super-human heroes with strong and vocal personalities, and manufacturers took a serious interest in the sport. 

Visually, the film is stunning and well-crafted. The fact that the producers used actual cars and not CGI makes a huge difference. 

The highlight of the entire film for me was the depiction of Ken Miles by Christian Bale, which is unbelievable in its accuracy. The nuances of this character are captured perfectly. From the first time you see him he is Ken Miles.

On the other hand, Matt Damon’s portrayal of Carroll Shelby is acceptable for those who didn’t know him. He gets the voice and the accent spot on, but the Shelby on the screen isn’t the person many of us knew.

The other supporting characters were quite good, from those playing Henry 2 to Phil Remington, though they do age Phil a bit too much for the era.

The best thing about this film is that it is it can be enjoyed by car people and non-car people. It celebrates a time when people honesty thought anything was possible and then they went out and proved that it was.

Jim Volgarino:

I was in high school during the years Ford was seeking supremacy on the race track, but honestly had no idea Ford and Ferrari were combatants. What 16-year-old kid did back at the dawn of the muscle car era? I was concerned about only two things… big engines and… wait for it… being cool. You thought I was headed another direction, dintcha!

Today, I have a different perspective and when I watched Ford vs Ferrari this past weekend, I was drawn to the need for speed, but was more focused on the part race driver Ken Miles played in this automotive melodrama.

Miles didn’t register as a known competitor for me until I read his name in a couple of historical homilies. But the movie brought home Ken Miles’ story and I was transfixed by what was going to happen to him next rather than how the race was won.

Christian Bales’ portrayal of Miles was top drawer and though some parts of the saga stretched the facts, the chemistry between Bales’ character and Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby seemed sincere and provided the drama needed to make the film a winner.

Whether Shelby and Miles truly had the relationship portrayed by the screenwriters, it provided just the right emotion to make you root for both throughout the movie, and to feel genuine sorrow at the very end.

Ford vs Ferrari is worth the time to watch even if you aren’t attracted to the speed and danger. The history is important, but the very human aspect is what makes the story work. 

And take along someone who doesn’t even know there was a Henry Ford II. Bet they’ll like it too.

Jared Costello:

If you love cars, then you know about the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari. 

If you love racing, then you know about the special events that took place on June 19, 1966, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

But if you are like me, you may have always wondered about the behind-the-scenes details that tied the two events together. 

After watching Ford vs. Ferrari, I walked away with a wave of new knowledge on racing history, along with sadness for Ken Miles.

Whether you are as curious as I am about the 1966 Le Mans race or just want to see a great movie about racing and fast cars, Ford vs. Ferrari is the perfect movie for you.

Larry Edsall:

Calling the movie Ford v Ferrari makes as much sense as labeling a sport utility vehicle as a Mustang. 

Sure, without the demise of Ford’s deal to purchase Ferrari there likely would have been no GT40 nor the eventual photo-op 1-2-3 sweep at Le Mans, but that was the backstory to a movie that should have been titled Fast Friends, because the movie is about the bond between Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles.

Actually, in many ways, the movie was primarily about Miles and his wife and son, and I thought that was the best part, Miles finally getting featured after an amazing if too brief racing career that started late because of his service in the British Army in World War II — he was a tank commander among those landing at Normandy on D Day — and ended much too early. 

I was very surprised at how well Matt Damon did in his portrayal of Carroll Shelby, but the real stars of the movie were the trio of British actors — Christian Bale as Miles, Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles and Noah Jupe as their son, Peter.

While the movie has been widely praised as a must-see for those interested in racing in particular and in classic cars in general, it also has its critics. For example, author Art Garner makes a case for the way the script slandered Ford executive Leo Beebe, and Hannah Elliott decries the glorification of an entire era when car guys ruled the automakers.

Personally, I don’t think this was the greatest racing movie of all time. In fact, I thought much of the racing was redundant — especially all those gear-change and tachometer closeups. And I was displeased, to say the least, with the “Hollywoodization” of a story inspired by real events.

But then, we were told the Mach-E was inspired by the real Mustang.

P.S. — If you want to know more about Shelby and his career, Shelby American, the documentary by Adam Carolla’s Chassy Media, can be viewed on Netflix.

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  • Ray Happy
    November 22, 2019, 3:54 PM

    When the Deuce (Henry Ford II) opened the blinds in his office at Ford World Headquarters and pointed to the Ford Rouge Plant and to Shelby that is where we built planets in WWII that was wrong. Ford built planes at the Willow Run Michigan plant near Ypsilanti Michigan.

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  • Frank Comstock
    November 22, 2019, 4:03 PM

    “And was Leo Beebe really such a diabolical villain? “

    Absolutely not. He was an intelligent, highly motivated, successful, insightful leader who stepped up and did whatever was asked of him until just weeks before his death. After a long career at Ford, he became a professor and Dean of the business school at Rowan University. He advised at least five presidents in the Oval Office, travelled the world after Ford to consult with multiple companies around the globe. He served as CEO of a couple of companies while continuing to teach. While at Rowan, he mentored many students who have gone on to successful business careers.

    I read Art Garner’s article on Facebook and I was glad to see he did his research which he got mostly right, although he missed a couple of things Leo did. I knew Leo Beebe and I interviewed him about a number of things from his Ford career, including his time with Ford racing. There were things I forgot to ask him and I still regret it to this day. I’ve written articles about him and have a couple more in the hopper. I’ll finish them when an editor shows some interest or when I’m not writing anything else.

    Leo Beebe had been given a mission at Ford racing by his friend HF2 and he knew how to lead teams to accomplish goals. When something went wrong — or was perceived to be wrong — Leo stepped up and took the responsibility. When things went right, he tended to step back and give the credit to his team.

    As I said on another car site, the number of people still alive who have interviewed Beebe about LeMans can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand and you probably don’t even need all five fingers. I don’t know who the writers and producers of the movie contacted for info on Beebe, but I know they didn’t contact me.

    Leo Beebe was not diabolical.

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  • Robert Walters
    November 22, 2019, 5:42 PM

    Have not as yet seen the movie.Looking forward to it. Having worked at Carrol Shelby Sports Cars in Dallas and having had a few casual contacts with Shelby it will be interesting to see how Hollywood spins what I knew of Shelby. It was not a rumour that the original Cobra was painted a number of times to indicate cars under production. Jim Hall-Chaparrel Race Cars,and his older brother were the financial backers of the sports cars dealership etc-etc. Robert Walters

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    • Robert Waldman@Robert Walters
      November 22, 2019, 7:33 PM

      Just a fun and entertaining movie. I saw the movie 3 weeks ago at a special media screening in Vancouver. Bring a non car expert I found the way they retreated the whole mid 1960s ere including sky references to the real James Bond a la Spielberg simply the icing on the cake bake was superb as was the main villain at Ford. Add on exciting racing footage and a slam bang true story I didn’t know anything about and Ford v Ferrari rocks. As a legitimate film critic any film that can hold my rapt attention for 2 1/2 hours without a blink gets my vote. Effective pacing ,high tension and emotion. Fully worth your time,

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      • fe ford@Robert Waldman
        November 23, 2019, 7:42 AM

        i cant see one reason other than star power why matt damon played mr shelby. it ruined the movie for me.

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  • Kevin Franklin
    November 22, 2019, 8:36 PM

    Why not ask Bob Bounderaunt, he has seen it would be nice to know the actual activity going on during that time. Your office is only a few miles away. It would be nice to see what Alan Grant and a few of the others associated with the program think.

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  • Len Hobbs
    November 23, 2019, 3:50 PM

    I have not (will not) see the movie. Without any doubt I know the movie will be lame, unrealistic, politically propagandized and just plain irrelevant.
    Matt Damon and Christian Bale ? Really ? It could not be any more insipid…if they had cast Justin Bieber and Johnny Depp…in the two lead roles.
    This movie is a cartoon. The REAL saga of Ford vs Ferrari was a war…with casualties.

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