I have to be honest with you, I can drive but I know little to nothing about the world of the motor, If you asked me how to fit a new tire, I probably give you directions to the nearest garage. The same goes for my knowledge of motor racing, sure I know racing events, but beyond that any further knowledge of Carroll Shelby or Le Mans I probably got off a Top Gear episode. Nevertheless, curiosity was at an all-time high for Le Mans’ 66 or Ford v Ferrari to all you US readers. It has to be said that I was pleasantly surprised by this film, despite the odd silly mistake, it managed to keep me entertained through both the racing and motor business scenes. In any other film, these two would clash tonally, not here though.
There was a show-stealer in Le Man ’66 and you’ve probably guessed that it is the man who can lose weight at the snap of his fingers. Christian Bale is simply magnificent as driver Ken Miles and is the one who brings most of the entertainment value due to how much he throws his charisma into the character. Ken is a madcap character, he’s very boisterous with a thick English accent (or it could be Christian Bale’s actual voice, you never know with him) and is very much a character for the motoring enthusiasts in the audience. From the first scene we meet him, we already know that this is the character we’re going to be drawn to the most because he is essentially the underdog and outsider in this film. Ken clashes a lot with the higher-ups at Ford and in turn, they don’t see him as the person who represents their brand, so seeing his character get one over Ford and Ford screwing him over, it’s a rollercoaster dynamic that works well.
Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby is also good, but unlike Christian Bale, I do prefer the character rather than the performance. Carroll Shelby is a former racing driver who now designs cars in partnership with Ford, there are a lot of scenes with his character and the CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts). However, the film is clever to not get too bogged down with the corporate stuff because that’s just not relatable to a mass audience, instead it takes the time to show the shared passion between Shelby and Miles of cars and racing. A wise move on director James Mangold’s part.
Moving on to the racing itself, my dad told me after the film that he had a miniature toy of the car showcase in this film the Ford GT40. In a nutshell, the racing scenes bring back a childlike, thrill-seeking feeling. Shot beautifully with a majority of wides so you can always see exactly what’s happening, they become very tense moments, especially at Le Mans when all the character’s cards are on the table. You can also find tension through the battles between the corporates of Ford and Shelby that happen during the race.
I will say the main reason that I was curious about Le Mans ’66 wasn’t Bale, wasn’t Damon, wasn’t the racing, it was to see what James Mangold could do next. After his excellent work in Logan, Mangold has climbed his way up in my list of directors to watch out for and the man does a great job. He nails the chemistry between the films two main characters but what I found more impressive was the relationship between Ken Miles and his son Peter (Noah Jupe). The two bonds over their knowledge and love for motor racing just as Ken does with Shelby, but this chemistry felt much more personal. Bale’s monologue about “The Perfect Lap” is meaningful to his son on so many levels and it provides some warmth to the high-speed entertainment value of the film.
Although this film is titled Ford v Ferrari in the US, at times you forget that there is this big corporate rivalry going on behind the scenes, which does benefit the film when it comes to showing how well written the characters are. However, one character mentions how mafia-like Ferrari seems to be, and at that moment, I knew we were going to tread on outlandish stereotypes because that is how Ferrari is presented in the film. whenever you see people at Ferrari or Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) himself, everything about them screams “Godfather”.
I’ve talked about how the film presents board meetings and paperwork and for some people, it can feel like a slam on the breaks. I admittedly found there were some boardroom scenes that I just wanted to be over with so I could get back to the cars and the racing.
Le Mans ’66 is a surprise to me and I hope to many. Although there was a lot of great talent behind the film, in the duration of its run to the big screen, the build-up to its release was drab and so “meh”. Patience is truly a virtue in Le Mans ’66, the patience it has in establishing character, the patience in the beautifully shot race sequences is more than an adequate fill. Seeing classic cars roaring to life in the film, I like to think that Le Mans ’66 is like an old banger. Classic cars have character, heritage and the sounds they make are music to any motor enthusiasts’ ears and the tune this film rings put this motor racing film in poll position above most.
Final Result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen Le Mans ’66? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: 21 Bridges