REVIEW: Le Mans ’66 (Ford vs. Ferrari)

by Max Palermo

Le Mans ’66 is a ‘star-studded’ biographical sports drama, focusing on the battle between Ford and Ferrari. Marketed in the US as ‘Ford V Ferrari’, the war between the two is ignited by Enzo Ferrari’s refusal to complete the merger between the two companies, he wanted to maintain control of his motorsport team. Henry Ford II wanted to defeat Ferrari at Le Mans as a result, a competition dominated by the Prancing Horse for 8 years. 

Christian Bale stars as driver Ken Miles, the Birmingham born Miles was employed by Ford to help with the development of the legendary Ford GT. The man who hired Miles, Carroll Shelby, is played by Matt Damon. Shelby is a retired driver himself and by the time of his appointment by Ford, a successful motorsport constructor. The movie also stars John Bernthal (The Punisher), Caitriona Balfe (Now You See Me), and Tracy Letts (Homeland). Director, James Mangold, is no stranger to biographical films, directing 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line. 

The sound of the classic Ford GT40 V8 roars…

I had the privilege of watching this movie early at a private screening but I would happily pay to watch this movie again. The racing scenes are edge-of-the-seat stuff and the sound is perfectly incorporated, this only serves to add to the intensity. The sound of the classic Ford GT40 V8 roars while the rattles of the car being pushed to the limit can be heard. All of this puts the viewer in the driving seat, feeling everything Miles does. My only problem with the film, though small, is it runs a little long which for me is not too much of an issue as I enjoy cars and motorsport. However, for the casual viewer, it will be more of an obvious factor.

The racing scenes are perfectly shot and edited with amazing sound mixing too. Quick cuts add to the intensity of the situation and every crash is felt by the audience. You feel the danger Miles is facing when he steps into the car as the movie allows you to empathise with the character. 

Historically, the film doesn’t do much wrong. You see the negotiations between Ferrari and the subsequent fiery attack on Henry Ford II, which leads the “deuce”, as he is often referred to in the film, to “go to war” with the Scuderia. The only Le Mans seen on screen is 1966, with the 1965 race being heard over radio, which you can only infer as no dates are presented on screen, a touch I personally like. One thing not touched upon is the dispute between Ferrari and John Surtees, the legendary driver is only subtly mentioned over the radio, an Easter egg for the fans of motorsport who know the Le Mans 66 story. 

The script harbours genuine moments of humour, with the audience, including myself, laughing out loud. Most of the humour comes from Christian Bale’s portrayal of Ken Miles. The dry wit and comedic timing really help to add to the story, and Bale’s Birmingham accent is fairly impressive, with his counterparts, Caitriona Balfe’s (portraying Miles’ wife) good in parts, improving at the back end of the movie. 

The film does a great balancing act between the sporting narrative and the emotional stories woven into the movie. Ken Miles is presented as an incredible driving mind, but the script subtly reminds you that he is a loving family man. In a similar way, Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby deals with his health struggles throughout the film but the writers make sure it is not the centre of his story, as he himself at heart is a racing man unable to do what he loves. Le Mans 66 does an incredible job of not letting the emotion of the movie distract from its pure racing intensity. The emotion only serves to add to the impact of tense driving scenes.

People I spoke to before the movie based on the trailer were apprehensive about watching it as it just seemed like a petrol-fuelled film for car-obsessed people. But there are genuine human stories like debt, Shelby’s heart problems and the Miles family. The battle between the Ford executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) and Shelby is appealing to all cinema goers as it is someone to root against and brings the audience closer to Shelby and Miles. 

Director, James Mangold, does a commendable job ensuring no performance overpowers another, Damon and Bale show genuine chemistry as Shelby and Miles with their turbulent friendship being believable. John Bernthal’s performance as ford exec, Lee Lacocca, perfectly accompanies the headstrong personalities of the two racers. The family unit is well cast and Caitriona Balfe’s role as a mother and wife is well matched by her independence and willingness to be outspoken. Tracy Letts plays a commanding Henry Ford II and his presence is truly felt when he is on screen. 

The GT 40 becomes a member of the cast

In the movie, the GT 40 becomes a member of the cast. Often personified as “she” you see the 40-inch tall, V8 machine develop into the storied car of motorsport history as the film progresses. Slowly the problems are ironed out in an entertaining way, the film does not bother with over-explaining the engineering, choosing to have it in in passing conversation. This allows the movie to flow better and not let the film slump in the middle act. One way the filmmakers do this is by not showing the computed simulation of the whole 24 hours, with the only mention of computers being Miles ripping the data machine out of the car. The relationship between the car and Miles is enjoyable to watch with the dialogue in the car funny and entertaining, all the way until the end of the movie. 

The soundtrack wonderfully accompanies the film, with it being very contemporary and maintains the emotion built from what’s seen on screen. It is hard not to sing along in your head as the songs help move along the story 

Now Le Mans 66 is not going to rake in many awards, with the exception of maybe cinematography and sound, but it is a truly enjoyable film for more than just lovers of cars and motorsport. It is value for money entertainment with its high octane racing, humour and emotion. I highly recommend watching this film and wouldn’t blame you if you watched it more than once. 

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