American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
‘Le Mans 66’ (or ‘Ford v Ferrari’ in the US) is a racing car drama focusing on the attempts of the Ford motor company to win the prestigious Le Mans 24 hour racing competition in the early 1960s. The prestigious race had been dominated by Ferrari in recent years and had never had an American winner, something that grates on Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), the current owner of Ford. Assembling a determined team of engineers led by former driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), Ford attempt to create a car and find a driver capable of breaking the Ferrari stranglehold. It’s an entertaining story, well directed by James Mangold and despite an overlong running time, I really enjoyed this and found myself fully caught up in how the story plays out (having not known the backstory).
The driver at the centre of this story is Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British driver with an eccentric streak who often clashes with others. His personality doesn’t fit with the Ford brand, although his undoubted talent does, and a large part of the film centres on the clash between the racing purists led by Shelby and the uptight suits, led by Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), who don’t understand the mechanics (pun definitely intended!) of what Shelby, Miles and team are doing. There’s not a lot of originality in the story and it covers a lot of expected beats, but the performances are fun and the story is good, which goes a long way to winning the audience over, myself included. The action sequences are well directed and the characters are defined strongly enough that I was invested in their individual stories, albeit I wish the film used the ample runtime to dedicate a bit more time to the Ferrari side of things (the US title is very misleading in that respect). I also felt that the filmmakers kind of wanted us to be on Ford’s ‘side’, yet beyond Miles they weren’t really worth rooting for on a professional level.
This isn’t as good as ‘Rush’ was, but it delivers enough action and drama to entertain and I did enjoy it. I think its greatest success is that it captures the sheer elation and competitive spirit of sport and it’s hard not to get caught up in that, and ‘Le Mans 66’ is a very entertaining movie.
Directed By: James Mangold
Starring: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Ray McKinnon and Remo Girone