For automotive enthusiasts, the names Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby, Lee Iacocca, Ken Miles, and Enzo Ferrari are legendary. Known for both their accomplishments and distinct personalities, their stories have been told in innumerable stories and books. In the film Ford v. Ferrari brought the story of Ford’s historic 1966 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to a broad audience in 2019 and much like the unlikely Blue Oval success all those years ago, this movie based on real-life superheroes took home the opening-weekend win at the Box Office without the benefit of computer wizardry.
If you aren’t familiar with the legend, the story goes that Henry Ford II attempted to buy Ferrari, but Enzo Ferrari rebuffed him at the 11th hour over control of the Ferrari racing program. As such, the Deuce as he was affectionally called in the film, decided to turn the investment earmarked for the purchase into revenge on the racetrack. The mission was to create a race car and team that could defeat Ferrari at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, a grueling endurance race that takes its toll on man and machine. The result was the innovative GT40 Mk II, but the path was wrought with struggle.
Spoiler alert, Ford and the Shelby skunkworks pulled it off in grand fashion with Ford the crossing the finish line in a famed 1-2-3 formation, which certainly makes for a Hollywood ending, complete with a twist. While the biopic takes some liberties with the story and plays up the drama between Shelby and Ford’s race program leader Leo Beebe, the basic framework of the tale is there and centers on Ford calling on Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who won Le Mans in 1959, and driver/engineer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to help develop the GT40 racing program and bring the victory to fruition.
But making a film for a wide audience isn’t just about the cars. While the film eschews CGI in favor of real action scenes shot using Superformance continuation Cobras and GT40s, it is the human story that resonates with the audience, and the stars Bale, Damon and the rest of the cast do a fantastic job bringing the spirit of these automotive legends to life. And the interplay behind the wily former Texas chicken farmer and the tea-sipping former British tank commander really makes the film, as the actors’ chemistry jumps off the screen. It’s as if you were watching the real-life friends fight through the tough times on the way to legendary success. Even if you already know the story, you can’t help but pull for the heroes and wish you could have been there to see it in person.
Since that’s not possible, a trip to the theater to see Ford v. Ferrari is well worth the time of any fan of fast cars, so go check it out on the big screen while you can. Besides, with this film generating some Oscar buzz, we might just see more legendary automotive stories racing across the big screen if this film earns accolades and continues its box-office success.