It was supposed to be called Ford Vs Ferrari – and, in the States, it is. But, for some reason, in the UK it’s Le Mans 66 and Fox haven’t said why. Nor are they likely to because it’s not necessarily something they’d reveal. The trouble is, it’s a long way from an improvement on the original – which isn’t especially great to start with – and both of them do the film a disservice.
The 1960s aren’t a great time for the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) needs to bring younger customers into his showrooms, with faster, more glamorous cars. And another way of adding some pizzazz to his aging brand is to overthrow rivals Ferrari in the world of motor racing. Ambitious, but not impossible. Former Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) comes on board to design and build a car worthy of the job, and with him comes renegade British racer and engineer Ken Miles (Christian Bale). They’re a formidable pair, but they have corporate politics to face as well as their own personal differences. And the challenge of the 24 hours of Le Mans.
So, it’s a film driven by two double acts, with Damon and Bale first off the grid as the two Ford men. They’re irresistible – the laid back Damon and the fiery Bale who bicker and support each other in equal measure. Admittedly, Bale regularly chews the scenery, but that just adds to the entertainment value and director James Mangold smartly counterbalances this with a tender relationship with his adoring son, Peter (Noah Jupe). The other twosome never meet. Tracy Letts’ Henry Ford II instils fear in his workers as he forges ahead with his plans to develop that ultimate car – watch for the scene when Damon takes him for a high-octane spin in the finished product – while Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) is more shadowy, operating from the sidelines and oozing arrogance.
Petrol heads will be drawn to this one like a magnet. The racing scenes are wonderfully choreographed, genuine white knuckle rides that burst off the screen with help from a throbbing score from Marco Beltrami. The final part of the film is devoted to Le Mans and, despite the race by its very nature being repetitive, Mangold has so completely caught us up in the world of motor racing that we’re gripped from the get-go. But there’s more to enjoy in the film – the characters, the political shenanigans with their echoes of Mad Men, the sarky humour. That running time of 2 hours 20 minutes simply flies by.
Le Mans 66 doesn’t do anything especially new, sports movie or otherwise, but it does everything extremely well, adding up to one of the most entertaining films of the year. It’s one heck of a ride!
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Sport, Drama, Action, Biography | Cert: 12A | 20th Century Fox | UK, 15 November 2019 | Dir. James Mangold | Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Tracy Letts, John Bernthal, Noah Jupe, Caitriona Balfe.