Release date – 15th November, Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 32 minutes, Director – James Mangold
Race car designer Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) battle the lead figures of Ford to create a car that will beat Ferrari at the 24 hour Le Mans race.
Ford Vs Ferrari is the better title, that seems to have been one of the main agreed thoughts when it comes to Le Mans ’66, as it’s been labelled in the UK. It seems that the studio have taken the opinion that the 24 hours at Le Mans racing competition is well known enough in the UK for that to be the title, instead of the Ford Vs Ferrari label – which arguably better conveys the competition that the film tries to get across. Following race car designer Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) as he’s tasked by the Ford motor company to build a car in only a matter of months that could beat the consistent winners of the race, Ferrari. Shelby finds himself recruiting driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) – and somewhat questionable Brummie accent – to help him build the hopeful winning car, despite the disapproval of senior Ford figures, who want to keep a clean image, which the prone-to-outbursts Miles has made a name for. An early scene showing him calling a race official an “arsehole” when his car is apparently not fit to race, something which he quickly fixes with a few hits from a hammer.
“This isn’t the first time that Ford motors has gone to war in Europe” explains Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to Shelby as he explains his ambitions in hoping that winning the competition will make his cars more attractive to a younger audience of post-war buyers. It’s lines of dialogue like this that capture the attention of the viewer and bring them into the world of the film; not lines like “cor blimey, did you see that?” However, while the dialogue fluctuates much of the film is rather conventional. The more talky scenes that make up most of the two and a half hour run-time of James Mangold’s latest are filled with a sense of convention, which at times leads to a slight lack of connection with the characters at the centre of the piece. It’s also such moments that make the film really feel like two and a half hours.
What does work though are the racing scenes. The general look and, especially, sound of such moments is engaging, and slightly thrilling. Bringing the viewer in for relatively fast-paced sequences, especially in the extended third act race finale – the definite highlight of the entire film, even if you do have to go through almost two hours of build-up to get to it.
There are enjoyable moments throughout the film, some slight moments of humour, often coming from Bale’s easily agitated figure, even if every attempted beat doesn’t quite work. Emotion or major moments of character development also don’t quite get across either. A moment of Ken talking to his son (Noah Jupe), explaining the perfect lap, doesn’t quite work and almost begins to feel slightly forced, as does much of the emotion or moments of close character bonding, often between Ken and his wife (Caitriona Balfe) or son, that the film tries to get across. Through tensions of whether he should race to earn money, after his car workshop has been forcefully closed down and he has no other major source of income, despite telling his wife that he had retired from racing. The only major thing pushing him on being his son’s equal passion for cars and racing and his own love for the pair.
And it’s clear that the main love and effort for the film has been put into the energy and flare held by the racing scenes, and the majority of moments based around driving a car at a high speed around a track. The editing and sound makes them what they are and very much puts the viewer in the front seat, perhaps not the driving seat but definitely the passenger seat. The racing scenes are the true energy of the film, while what else there is is still lightly enjoyable the convention definitely gets in the way at times, alongside Christian Bale’s slightly wobbly accent.
The racing scenes are the true action and heart of Le Mans ’66, while the rest of the film is perfectly fine it’s deeply rooted in convention and at times feels safe to the point where the two and a half hour run-time begins to be felt.