Muscle cars. The Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro & Chevelle, the Dodge Charger & Challenger, the Pontiac Trans Am & Firebird. You know ’em, you love ’em! But did you know they all owe a debt of gratitude to one man? Yup! That man is automotive designer, author, and race car driver, Carroll Shelby.
his is true story of three men and one racetrack. Harken back to 1963 and the Ford Motor Company desperately needing to come up with a new car to improve sales. Hard-nosed CEO Henry Ford II (Tracey Letts) demands a new car, but only Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) has an idea; a revolutionary new sports car called the Mustang AND winning at LeMans in France where Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) has dominated every single year with his cars. But where to get such a car? Who could possibly build it?
Enter car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) who, after winning at LeMans years before, is given the assignment. But in order to build the fastest machine possible, he’ll need the best around. And that dubious distinction falls to rail-thin British mechanic and brilliant driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who just so happens to have fallen on hard times. Ken’s loving wife (Caitriona Balfe) and son (Noah Jupe) are on board, but no so much the committee at Ford, who aren’t exactly keen on having a ‘beatnik’ behind the wheel representing Ford, especially uber-dick and company man, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas).
However, after Ford loses big-time at LeMans the first year without Miles at the wheel (not to mention Ferrari reveling in the win), Henry Ford II capitulates and has Ken drive at LeMans the next year. The entire third act is that race and hoo-boy! Is THAT ever exciting! I don’t know whether it was camera trickery, CGI, real racing, or whatever, but it looks fantastic, is heart-pounding, and nerve-jangling. This is one terrific movie for all your race car fans out there. At nearly 2 1/2hrs it just zips by with an excellent script by brothers Jez & John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) and Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher).
And since this is a bio-pic, there’s no ridiculous subplots to mess up the main story. Miles isn’t an alcoholic that could jeopardize his chances, there’s no devious or sinister plans to do anyone any harm, and no one is sleeping around with anyone else. Just a pure, linear story of three guys trying to beat the competition at any cost. Funny, smart, heart-breaking, breath-taking, and full of enough engine revving to keep race car enthusiasts entertained for hours. Who knew a script this simple and straight-forward could be THIS good?
Director James Mangold (Logan, CopLand) expertly handles the camera here; sometimes like a fly on the wall, eavesdropping in on a conversation, driving around like a bat-outta-Hell, or that intense LeMans racing footage which is SO wicked cool, that you can practically feel the G-forces pushing against your face. But let’s face it, his job was easy when you had a damn fine cast to work with. Bale, speaking his native tongue and looking almost like his Machinist character, is so natural and fluid, it’s hard to believe he’s even acting. Damon is outstanding, but I have to give top marks to Balfe and Jupe who, even though cast as Miles’ wife & son and in lesser parts, are extraordinary.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)
Preston Tucker. Never heard of this guy, right? But you have benefited from his car innovations. Y’see, this guy was sort of the Walt Disney of the automotive industry and designed a car that had something the others in 1948 didn’t. Stuff like a rear motor, seat belts, a padded dashboard, fuel injection, disc brakes, turnable headlights, and more!
After building a WW2 tank that could go 80mph (it got rejected, btw), Preston (Jeff Bridges) returns home with a cockamamie idea: a new car to threaten the Big Three auto makers (Ford, GM, and Chrysler). He calls it the Tucker Torpedo and the drawings of it make it look like a futuristic rocket ship. Three headlights? Pop-out windshields with safety glass? A rear engine that be swapped out in 26 minutes? This guy must either be crazy or a genius! He gets New York financier Abe Karatz (Martin Landau) to arrange financial support, but no one takes Preston seriously. So what does Preston do? He lies!
Taking out a magazine ad for his car (that isn’t even built yet) generates 50,000 letters, and that means enough buzz to seek capital. Raising money gets him a plant to build a prototype car which Preston and his team race around the clock to make from scratch. . .in only 60 days! Preston’s devoted wife Nora (Joan Allen) joins forces and makes sure the new stockholder, Robert Bennington (Dean Goodman), doesn’t usurp the company and change Preston’s radical ideas, which he does. After his government-owned plant is pulled underneath him, Preston gets unusual help from Howard Hughes (Dean Stockwell) in a haunting, almost jarring scene.
But even after Preston finally makes his dream car work, word leaks that “the car is too good” and the Big Three decide to shut him done by calling him a fraud and manipulating the press (fake news!). Brought before court for malfeasance, embezzling funds, and never building any cars, Preston pleads to the jury to just look out the window to see his 51 Tucker Torpedoes lined up outside the court building as proof of his innocence.
Written by Arnold Schulman (A Chorus Line, Funny Lady) and David Seidler (The Kings Speech), they could have gone straight docu-telling here, but instead detoured into a quirky, whimsical, almost comical sitcom-y film about Preston and his wide-eyed vision, glowing smile, and never ending can-do spirit. The cast is impressive enough with Oscar winner Martin Landau, but the ensemble rocks with Mako, Christian Slater, Lloyd Bridges (Jeff’s dad), Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci from SNL), and Elias Koteas.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola right after he made his two Godfather sagas, he originally wanted this movie to be a stage musical! A labor of love, you can see it with his fun, light directing touch; the goofy camera angles, split screens, and many scenes shot looking up at the actors, rather than straight forward. Fun trivia: producer George Lucas and Coppola both own two Tucker cars each! BTW: 47 of the original 51 Tuckers still exist and are in mint condition! As interesting as this movie is, it’s a sad fact that the real Preston Tucker died only six years after the court decision. Imagine what new innovative ideas the man could have come up with if he had lived?