Review: Le Mans ’66
The story and legacy of the hostilities between John Ford II and Enzo Ferrari isn’t something I can safely say I’m all that familiar with. In fact, I know nothing of it, my knowledge of cars stopping as far as the Top Gear specials and Crash Bandicoot: Tag Team Racing video game will take me. Knowing nothing of cars and not caring enough to indoctrinate myself into a hobby that features a vehicle I cannot and presumably will not drive, I’m surprised to say that Le Mans ‘66 is quite possibly one of my favourite films of the year. Certainly its premise, director and cast have helped it along the way, but for someone so neutral on the topic of cars, it surprises me that it packs a familiar, enjoyable punch.
Presumably given that it’s a sleek looking biopic that has the resultant strengths of both Christian Bale and Matt Damon at the helm. Bale stars as Ken Miles, a garage owner and racing driver who strikes a lucky break when he and Carroll Shelby (Damon) are hired by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a car fast enough to win the upcoming Le Mans ‘66. Battling with the corporate suits, growing concern from Miles’ family and financial struggles, the film showcases their uphill battle at getting a car prepared for the 24-hour race, let alone attempting to win it.
As we’ve come to expect from them both, Bale and Damon are on fire in perhaps some of their best work in recent years. Bale has managed to dominate the biopic genre for the past decade, with appearances in the likes of The Fighter and Vice to name but a few. His performances are regarded with critical and public praise, and rightly so. His impressionable work on camera throughout Le Mans ‘66 is nothing short of seeing a man at the very peak of his career, a peak he has been on for quite some time. Bale’s dedication to the craft and his insistence on method acting has worked wonders here as he embodies racing driver Ken Miles in a way that makes it a fitting tribute yet also a collectively solid performance.
Damon performs on a similar level, his role as mechanic and former racer Carroll Shelby brings up the rear of the film rather well. Much of the emotional turmoil throughout the film is thrown at Bale, who does his best with material that is all but forgotten about when we start seeing the preparation for the race. With Damon, we see him share the screen with a handful of familiar faces, Jon Bernthal and Tracy Letts most notably. The make or break point of the movie then would be the chemistry between Bale and Damon, who are nothing short of remarkable, they retell a story that has gone down in racing history with genuine elegance and ease. Their first pairing together, it’s great to see how well they operate with one another, and Le Mans ‘66 knows that, like any great car, the breaking point is who is at the wheel.
In this case, it’s Logan and Walk the Line director James Mangold, a director whose visual prominence is perhaps what makes Le Mans ‘66 such a beautifully, feverishly entertaining film. Mangold’s direction is nothing short of impressive, beautiful shots of sunny valleys and close ups of the burning rubber as we watch Bale fly around in some sleek cars. His focus on the relationship between Miles, Shelby and Ford overtakes the more personal touches that this genre can provide. The real flair in most instances is the familial connections, but considering their lack of importance to the necessity of the story, it’s a strange surprise to see that they’re still included and more or less forgotten about by the end of the second act.
Eye candy for retro car enthusiasts and rich enough in story to provide ample engagement for people that don’t know an exhaust pipe from a brake pedal, like me. I’m sure my former driving instructor would agree with my lack of car knowledge, but knowledge isn’t really something you need to take on a watch of Le Mans ‘66, a sure-fire contender for a Best Picture win at the upcoming Academy Awards. Perfect performances mixed with some impressive shots from a great director is a bold way to take Le Mans ‘66 up to first place in the ranking of this year’s releases.