Le Mans ’66 (a.k.a. Ford v Ferrari), 2019.
Directed by James Mangold.
Starring Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Ray McKinnon, and JJ Feild.
When former Le Mans winner and American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is tasked by Ford to make a revolutionary race car in order to take on the legendary Team Ferrari, he turns to journeyman driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to help him achieve the impossible.
Le Mans ’66 is a film that has been stalling in development limbo for quite a few years, and has even had a quick title-change paint-job (it’s known as Ford v Ferrari elsewhere) in order to widen its appeal before release. It’s understandable considering the subject matter is motor-racing, which outside of the comedic Talladega Nights hasn’t really achieved podium finishes at the box-office, with Rush and Driven both sent to the scrap pile.
However, like a Ken Miles final lap, this surges from a huge pack of end-of-year films to deliver a crowd-pleasing true-story, in which the heartwarming focus is the kind of ‘family’ Vin Diesel could only dream of.
Logan director James Mangold takes the European beer advert aesthetic – sun-kissed and shades wearing – to create a kind of playful Mad Men for the automotive industry, as the suits of Ford, headlined by the terrifically villainous Josh Lucas, clash with the pit-lane petrol heads of Damon and Bale.
It’s a light-hearted approach which pays-off immensely by the time Le Mans ’66 shifts into a more dramatic gear. The chemistry between Bale and Damon is the driving force of the film. The former is all Northern grit, with the utterance of “pillock” in a mainstream Hollywood movie, an utter delight. Bale makes Miles an obnoxious, but likeable underdog. It validates the way that his son, played by the wonderful Noah Jupe, looks up to him, which in turn makes us root for his little family unit, one that’s held together by wife Mollie, memorably portrayed by Outlander‘s Caitriona Balfe.
Damon enters the fray as the all-American poster boy, the kind he can play in his sleep, but the script affords him arguably his most rewarding role since The Martian. His journey is an emotionally satisfying one, as it evolves into something quite unexpected come the final reel.
Le Mans ’66 is also an incredibly funny and lovingly recreated film; everything down to the Typhoo Tea tea tin evokes a real weight of time and place. Add to that the fact it features one of the best fight scenes of-all-time (seriously), and a line in which James Bond is referred to as a “degenerate” for not driving a Ford car, and you have a film that completely defies any preconceptions you had about watching ‘movie about cars’.
When the on-track action does arrive, you’re so invested in those sat in the cockpit of the car that you can’t help but be caught up in the thrill of the race. Plus, there’s so much playful politics and dastardly double-crossing going on behind the scenes, featuring Mr. Never in a Movie Enough, Jon Bernthal, and a very-funny turn from Tracy Letts, that the race becomes secondary to the characters.
“Eh by gum” and “bloody hell”, Le Mans ’66 is absolutely fantastic. So much charisma, charm, and a huge heart beneath its hood, that even those with a tin-ear for motor-racing will enjoy its tale of friendship and family in the fast lane.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt