Le Mans 66 Review
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas and Noah Jupe
Le Mans 66 (or Ford v Ferrari in the US) feels at home on the big screen. It’s where this story always belonged. On the biggest possible screen.
Why, you ask? Because this is an incredible story, that deserves to be shown, and the only way it would be done justice would be on a huge cinema screen.
Le Mans 66 stars Christian Bale as British driver/struggling mechanic, Ken Miles, and Matt Damon as Shelby Automobiles owner Carroll Shelby, a racing driver who had won Le Mans back in 1959, but was forced to retire due to an unfortunate heart condition.
The film, however, doesn’t really start with them. It starts with the Ford Motor Company, which is now being run by Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts). Ford’s not doing too well, and they’re desperately trying to figure out a way they can get the company back on track.
Enter Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) who come up with the idea of trying to purchase Ferrari, who are rather strapped for cash, to boost their own car sales and then even try and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Iacocca argues that Ford cars aren’t selling too well because they’re not making them desirable enough to young people, who are more interested in buying cars from the Italian car manufactures.
Le Mans 66 is a war movie… about cars…
Yet, Enzo Ferrari walks out of the deal, calling Herny Ford II fat in the process, and this is what convinces Ford to try and beat Ferrari at their own game, Le Mans.
Iacocca enlists the help of Matt Damon’s Shelby, who knows how to win Le Mans. He starts working on what will end up becoming the celebrated Ford GT40 race car, and he also brings in the talents of Christian Bale’s Ken Miles to help build the machine and drive it at Le Mans.
There’s one problem. Ford doesn’t see Miles as a ‘Ford man’, and don’t want Miles to drive for them. This is where the real battle of the film takes place.
The film in the US is billed as Ford v Ferrari, but in reality, it’s very much Ford v Ford. On one side you have Shelby, Miles and Iacocca, and on the other, you have Henry Ford II and his meddling, power-hungry, and all-around nasty dude, Leo Beebe, a Ford executive who’s very close to Henry Ford II.
There’s an incredible power struggle between these two sides, and this part of the film is almost as interesting as what ends up happening on the race track.
This, of course, is a biopic, so it certainly didn’t all happen the way it plays out on-screen. But what director James Mangold and the writers have done is create a thoroughly compelling drama surrounding the ins and outs of Ford Motor Company and what it took to get a Ford car to Le Mans in 1966.
There’s one point in the movie where Henry Ford II says “this is war,” and in that scene, he’s talking about a war with Ferrari, yet what’s really being said is that it’s a war within the company.
Le Mans 66 shows Christian Bale at his best
Ford was, and probably still is, a very bureaucratic company with lots of lawyers, layers and levels. It’s a miracle they ever get anything done because things have to go through so many people before a decision is made.
That’s what’s at play here. You have two men who just want to be allowed to get the job done (win Le Mans) in Miles and Shelby, and then you have Ford’s team of suits who want to make sure they have a ‘Ford man’ in their car, regardless of whether he’ll win or not.
It’s a really interesting look into the motor industry, motor racing, but also it’s an interesting look into the American psyche.
This is all wonderfully rounded off by some absolutely incredible performances from the likes of Damon, Bernthal, Lets, Lucas, Noah Jupe, and especially Christian Bale.
The moments between Miles and his son, and Miles and Shelby are where this film really shines. But yes, the racing moments are pretty gripping as well.
I especially enjoyed the way Mangold opted to shoot these racing scenes, which really portray the speed and dangerousness of these vehicles.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale are perfectly cast
I’m not someone who watches motor racing, but I love it depicted on screen, and Mangold did a wonderful job in making these scenes as captivating and possible.
It brought to mind scenes from Ron Howard’s Rush and Asif Kapadia’s incredible documentary, Senna.
I would say these two films are at the pinnacle of motor racing movies, along with TT3D: Closer to the Edge, which is also something really special.
However, I would put Le Mans 66 in the mix with these movies. Perhaps a bit behind Senna and TT3D: Closer to the Edge, but they’re both documentaries, and this is a dramatisation of what went on.
Le Mans 66 is gripping, moving, captivating and actually has something to say about more than just cars. It’s a film about relationships, friendships, determination, talent, tragedy and also the arrogance of men.
It’s a film I would watch again in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure if my heart could take it just this minute.
Le Mans 66 is in cinemas now.
And if you enjoy listening to film podcasts, why not check out Small Screen Radio wherever you get your podcasts!