VOD film review: Le Mans ’66
James R | On 19, Apr 2020
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts
“Nothing wrong with the car. It’s the way it’s being driven. Too much fuel and not enough spark.” That’s Ken Miles (Christian Bale), WWII veteran, lone Brit in Los Angeles, hotshot mechanic and washed-up racing driver. From the orginal title of Le Mans 66 – Ford v Ferrari – you fully expect him to launch into a fierce rivalry with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former driver who’s now an automotive designer. But that’s not the story driving this racing drama, and it’s all the better for it.
The year is 1963, and Shelby is hired by Henry Ford II to beat Ferrari, after his takeover bid is refused by Enzo Ferrari. And so he begins the work to make a racing car – his first step? Bringing Ken on board. Rather than be at odds with each other, they find themselves pushing back against the company, with head honcho Leo Beene (Josh Lucas) putting commercial pressure upon them.
It goes without saying that Bale and Damon are on top form, and they make a finely tuned double-act, bringing a convincing camaraderie to their bromance. Bale’s loud and brash outsider is a fantastically likeable counterpart to Damon’s calm, smooth-talking middleman – they may start off as awkward colleagues but their friendship grows through their shared sense of creative ambition and satisfaction in the face of commercial obstacles and demands.
The script, written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, fuels their exchanges with whip-smart dialogue – and James Mangold directs every one with a slick, polished sheen. Together, their build up to the 1966 24-hour race of Le Mans with an impeccable understanding of pacing – relaxed enough to coast slowly towards it but confident enough to keep momentum high.
It helps that the rest of the cast are also firing on all cylinders, from Jon Bernthal as Ford VP Lee Iacocca and Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Ken’s wife, to the scene-stealing Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II, whose face after being in a racing car for a lap is priceless. With a full final act given over to the climactic race, the result is a rollicking ride whether you’re a racing fan or not – there’s just enough fuel and spark to keep things rolling, and it’s driven without missing a turn.