Ford v Ferrari / Le Mans ’66 (2019)
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriters: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, John Bernthal, Catriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, John Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon
An emotional rollercoaster of anger, sadness, competition and thrills, Le Mans ’66 (from Logan director James Mangold) will take your breath away and move you to tears, leaving you with sadness in your heart as you process the witnessing of one of the automotive industry’s most compelling stories told by one of the century’s most underrated filmmakers. This is more than an exciting adventure into the world of motorsport made for motorsport enthusiasts.
Focusing on the determination of the Ford automotive company in its pursuit to upstage Ferrari following a failed takeover of the Italian racing giants, Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his team of engineers attempt to build a car that will defeat Ferrari at the landmark annual racing challenge: the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. In doing so, they will have to build the best racing machine ever built; one that combines speed and stopping power with reliability. Their journey is not without problems however, and the team must overcome many obstacles to achieve their goal, including the relationship between lead protagonists Shelby and Ken Miles (Bale) as well as the duo’s relationship to the increasingly dictatorial Ford marketing team.
The political aspects of the film do make for strong emotional anchors, with Ford somewhat surprisingly (given their co-operation in bringing some of the classic cars to the screen) coming across as less respectful, more arrogant and less deserving of their success than the team at the heart of their accomplishments or even their rivals at Ferrari. The fight that Shelby and his driver Miles have with the higher ranked Ford officials proves to be anger-inducing, making for even more satisfying moments of adrenaline during the driving scenes; specifically those with Bale’s character Miles behind the wheel.
Indeed, the most exciting moments of Le Mans ’66 are the racing sequences that use photography and sound to illustrate speed like few films before it; the shots from the driver’s point of view and the sound of the roaring engines being simply spectacular. It was exactly what you’d wish for from a film about racing cars.
Bale, as British racer Miles, is terrific as a man who is bound to the automotive industry by his passion for racing; the Welsh-born actor taking on a British accent in a film for the first time in years. His character is honest, and while he may be a bit over-the-top at times, Bale grounds him in a trustworthy position that maintains engagement and investment, the narrative pushing for interest in the possibilities of his profound passions and talents in opposition to the hyper-homogenised culture of big business.
Damon’s Shelby, by contrast, is presented as being a lot more politically correct as regards authority, but like Miles displays moments of the racer inside that had defined him in the years before the film, tinkering with the opposition, playing tricks on board members and at times even confronting the boss himself in order to get to where he needs to be with the team he believes he needs to have; Miles included. Damon, ever the all-American hero, plays the character in the same refined way that has come to be present in many of his roles, fulfilling every aspect of performance for a character not too dissimilar to himself in how he has transitioned from up-start, exciting outsider into established, savvy professional.
Conclusively, Le Mans ’66 strikes on an emotional and technical level, the cinematography, sound design, score and soundtrack working closely with the exceptional direction and performances to create an enjoyable experience for casual filmgoers and an extraordinary one for racing enthusiasts.