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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY 20th CENTURY FOXFord GT-40 race car at test track in scene from “Ford v Ferrari.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY 20th CENTURY FOXFord GT-40 race car at test track in scene from “Ford v Ferrari.”

Movie Review Big wheels: ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 by Paul Willistein in Focus

“Ford v Ferrari” provides a behind-the-scenes look at a slice of history that might not be known to the general public.

Car spoiler alert: “Ford v Ferrari” chronicles the strategy, testing and racing that went into winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 by the Ford Motor Company-sponsored GT-40 race car.

It was the first time an American auto manufacturer won the race. In fact, Ford cars placed first, second and third at Le Mans in 1966 with none of the Ferraris completing the race. Symbolically, the Ford Mustang outran the Ferrari Prancing Horse.

No United States auto company has since won Le Mans. Ferrari won Le Mans nine times. Ford won four years in a row (1966 - 1969) at Le Mans, the first and longest-running sports car endurance race held annually since 1923 near Le Mans, France.

The Ford GT-40 was developed by Ford and Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon), a car designer from Texas who had won Le Mans in 1959. Behind the wheel of the GT-40 is British driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale). In 1966, Miles drove Ford GT-40s to win the Daytona 24 Hours and 12 Hours of Sebring.

Of note to Lehigh Valley movie-goers, Allentown native Lee Iacocca, who became Ford Motor Company president, has a prominent role in “Ford v Ferrari.” Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) had urged Ford to purchase Ferrari in a deal that fell through and is said to have spurred Ford to develop its GT-40 racing program to compete against Ferrari.

“Ford v Ferrari” has the requisite car-racing footage. I am unsure of the amount of on-screen time the racing footage comprises, but it doesn’t dominate the film. The racing Fords and Ferraris are predominantly filmed at low-angles. Side-by-side shots, depicting competing drivers, frequent views of heel-and-toe pedal action, and fairly-typical close-ups of Miles (Bale) at the wheel provides the film’s excitement.

There are several solid scenes between car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and race car driver Ken Miles (Bale), Shelby and Ford racing team backer and Ford Motor Company CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), Miles and his wife (Caitriona Balfe), and Miles and his son (Noah Jupe). Damon’s and Miles’ musings about the philosophy of racing, the mindset of the racing-car driver, and the relationship between driver and car at 7,000 rpm add some poetry to the proceedings.

Matt Damon (screenplay Oscar recipient, “Good Will Hunting,” 1997) and Christian Bale (supporting actor Oscar recipient, “The Fighter,” 2019) could receive best-actor Oscar nominations for “Ford v. Ferrari.” It’s unclear, in terms of screen time, which actor has the lead role in “Ford v Ferrari.” I didn’t have my stopwatch with me at the screening. Bale might nose out Damon, if only for the amount of weight he lost going from portraying Dick Cheney in “Vice” (2018) to portraying Miles in “Ford v Ferrari.” Bale is said to have gained 40 pounds for the Cheney role and lost 70 pounds for the Miles role.

Director James Mangold (adapted screenplay Oscar nomination, “Logan,” 2017; “The Wolverine,” 2013; director, “Walk the Line,” 2005; “Girl, Interrupted,” 1999) works from a screenplay by Jez Butterworth (“Spectre,” 2015), John-Henry Butterworth (“Get On Up, “ 2014) and Jason Keller (“Escape Plan,” 2013). Mangold effectively varies racing action scenes with character development dialogue scenes.

As Michael “Movie Maven” Gontkosky pointed out after the screening, “Ford v Ferrari” presents the auto racing world from multiple perspectives and relationships: driver and designer, car owner and corporate backer, driver and family, and driver and his mindset.

Moreover, if the film is factually accurate, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are good guys who are not besmirched by scandal, whether alcoholic beverage or drug use problems; personal downfalls, such as infidelity, or psychological challenges. While even the NASA astronauts depicted in Tom Wolfs’s “The Right Stuff” novel and subsequent movie (1983) perhaps didn’t have all of the “right stuff” in terms of moral compasses, “Ford v Ferrari” is on a temptation -free track.

For example, when Miles’ wife asks him where he was with Shelby one night when he didn’t return home at a reasonable hour, he indeed was looking at, taking in and test-driving a GT-40.

Apart from the story that’s up there on the big screen in “Ford v Ferrari,” there’s no small irony in the timeline of the Ford Mustang, with scenes in the movie about the Mustang’s 1964 introduction, to the Nov. 17, 2019, introduction of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach E electric, which appears to owe more to the Mazda RX-5 than the pony car. Ford launched its racing car program to lure customers to its showrooms to buy its cars, which Ford announced in 2018 it would no longer manufacture, with the exception of the Mustang, and would instead concentrate on selling trucks.

In other words, if there’s a Ford in your future, it will probably be a truck. Perhaps Ford’s new promotional slogan should be: You can buy any Ford as long as it’s a truck. “Keep on truckin.’’’

“Ford v Ferrari” is a winner. It should be enjoyed by car-racing aficionados, fans of Matt Damon and Christian Bale, and “OK, boomers” (such as myself), who followed the glory days of the Ford racing program during the 1960s.

“Ford v Ferrari,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for some language and peril; Genre: Biography, Racing, Drama; Run time: 2 hrs., 32 min.; Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Ford v Ferrari” was filmed in Los Angeles, Willow Springs Raceway, Calif., and Savannah, Ga. Lee Iacocca died at age 94 on July 2, about four months before the movie’s release.

Box Office, Nov. 22-23: “Frozen II” melted the competition, opening at No. 1 with $130.2 million, passing “Ford v Ferrari,” which dropped one place to No. 2, $15.7 million, $57.7 million, and keeping the Mr. Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” opening at No. 3 with $13.2 million, and “21 Bridges” opening at No. 4, with $9.2 million.

5. “Midway” dropped three places, $4.6 million, $43 million, three weeks. 6. “Playing with Fire” dropped two places $4.5 million, $31.5 million, three weeks. 7. “The Good Liar” stayed in place, $3.4 million, $11.8 million, two weeks. 8. “Charlie’s Angels” dropped five places, $3,2 million, $14 million, two weeks. 9. “Last Christmas” dropped four places, $3 million, $27.8 million, three weeks. 10. “Joker” dropped two places, $2.7 million, $326.8 million, eight weeks.

Unreel, Nov. 29:

“Knives Out,” PG-13: Rian Johnson directs an ensemble cast of Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and Christopher Plummer in the Comedy Crime Mystery. The death of a family patriarch is investigated in this “whodunit.”

“Queen & Slim,” R: Melina Matsoukas directs Chloë Sevigny, Daniel Kaluuya, Indya Moore and Jodie Turner-Smith in the Drama. An African-American couple’s first date takes a deadly turn when a patrol officer stops their car.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes