LE MANS ’66 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: James Mangold
Produced by: Peter Chermin, Jenno Topping, James Mangold
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, John Bernthal, Catriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe etc.
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Le Mans ’66 (2019) — AKA Ford versus Ferrari (2019) — is a historical sports biopic centred on the desire by Ford Motors to take on and beat Ferrari during the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race. Now, I’m not a massive fan of motor racing itself. I mean I admire the sports men and women who compete, but it’s not one of my favourite sports. Having said that, due to the speed, visuals, action and rivalry involved, car racing lends itself to tremendous cinematic possibilities. Films such as Senna (2010), Rush (2013) and the hilarious comedy, Talladega Nights (2006), are testament to that.
Arguably the best sports films, e.g. Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Wrestler (2008), A League of Their Own (1992), Remember the Titans (2000), Field of Dreams (1992), Moneyball (2011) to name a few, are not just about the sport, but the heroes, flawed characters or underdogs seeking to achieve victory or overcome adversity. Le Mans ’66 (2019) follows a similar pattern, but here the cars and racing scenes are very much to the fore. This is where the film really hits the mark with incredible direction, cinematography, visuals and editing style on the road and racetrack. Moreover, the costumes, locations, cars and rendition of the 1960’s era are all perfectly captured.
Off the track, the characters and emotional aspects are pretty strong too. They are led by the tremendous casting of Christian Bale as the driver, Ken Miles, and Matt Damon as salesman and car designer, Carroll Shelby. Bale is one of my favourite actors, and here he eschews masks and flashy prosthetics from previous roles, to present a volatile eccentric who is also an incredible mechanic and driver. Further, the ever-reliable ‘everyman’ actor, Matt Damon, produces another likeable and energetic performance as Shelby. The double act repartee between the obsessive Brummie, Miles, and smooth-talking Shelby, allows the narrative to cruise along splendidly.
One of the films’ weakness is that arguably the stakes aren’t particularly high. Of course, racing drivers are at risk of crashing, burning and losing their lives, so there is drama there. But, in essence, the filmmakers are asking for us to root for a billion-dollar company in Ford, against another big company in Ferrari. The excellent script however, by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth cleverly positions Miles and Shelby as outsiders attempting to overcome the obstacles put in their way by Ford’s corporate suits. These money-men are ably represented by Josh Lucas, Tracy Letts and the more sympathetic, John Bernthal. Ultimately, Miles and Shelby are car purists and technicians interested in the drive for perfection, rather than marketing, image and profits.
Overall, the film could have been trimmed for pace, ironically, in terms of running time. However, Le Mans ’66 (2019) works as a fine tribute to both Miles and Shelby’s talents and as a cinematic extravaganza. Indeed, James Mangold and his production team have produced some of the best driving scenes I have ever seen on the screen. What the film lacks in deep emotional impact is more than made up for by the kinetic velocity throughout, putting the film firmly in the leading pack of sports films.