Le Mans ’66 – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller
Length: 152mins

Originally titled ‘Ford vs Ferrari,’ James Mangold’s 2019 release tells the true story of the 1966 Le Mans race, a 24-hour competition that featured the two car companies head-to-head in a battle for not only the race, but the brand of their companies. Focusing on Ford’s attempt to rebrand – from a conglomerate that works with quantity, to a conglomerate that works with quality – the story revolves around Caroll Shelby’s (Matt Damon) employment as their head of racing, as he struggles with the marketing-led mindset of Ford, and what he must do to get Ken Miles (Christian Bale) behind the wheel of their best car.

Going into the film, I expected a highly dramatic portrayal of the race and all the events preceding it, as well as thoughtful and touching cinematography, teased by the many artful posters for the film. However, though there was a lot of dramatic tension, many of the scenes were led in a more light-hearted direction, as the characters of Miles and Shelby delivered witty lines and playful teasing. This definitely allowed the story to be a great deal more entertaining than thrilling, but Mangold still knew when to hold back on the humour, as many of the races rightfully allowed the drama of the situation to take the front seat. The two and half hour run-time is no issue in this film, as it delivers scene after scene which all feel necessary to the overall progress of our protagonists.

So why haven’t I rated this film higher? It was entertaining and well-acted, with a balanced mix of drama throughout. However, one of the most jarring elements of the film was the editing. Many of the scenes, particularly in offices and basic conversations, featured continuity editing that was completely out of sync with the movement of the scene, and took away from the flow of the moment.

Linking to later in the film, during many of the high-tension race scenes, the cuts were consistently fast-paced. We understand that it’s necessary to convey the ludicrous speeds at which the competitors are travelling, but audiences are able to appreciate a higher level of editing than simply a scene being fast-paced, and therefore so is the editing. There were multiple occasions when the cinematography was well done, and the scene appeared to be heading in a satisfying direction, only for the moment to be quickly cut away from for the sake of compatibility with the pace of the car.

It can be difficult to portray a story to audiences who already understand many of the events of the film. I’m sure that many people already knew the outcome of the Le Mans in 1966, and most other viewers would be able to take a good guess at where the story is headed. Therefore, to create a film that keeps viewers engaged and highly entertained throughout is an impressive feat. I would mainly attribute this success to the performance of Bale and Damon. Their relationship on screen is one that audiences can’t look away from, as you never know whether the scene will be touching, humorous or despairing. Though Bale’s accent may be jarring at first to British viewers, it is quickly overcome and becomes a part of his charming character. The relationship between Ken and his son, Peter (Noah Jupe), is a delicately portrayed element of the story, with Jupe brilliantly embodying a child who clearly adores their dad and what he does with his life.

To conclude, I would definitely encourage you to watch Le Mans ’66, and when you find yourself wishing for the Ford car to win, ask yourself who it is you wish to see succeed; Ken Miles, the charismatic racer, or Ford, the company that simply wants to make a better profit.

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