Image: Christian Bale in Le Mans 66 © Property of 20th Century Fox [Source: IMDB]
The world-renowned 24 Hours at Le Mans. A race of immense prestige and fame. But as if to be more exciting it details the events of real-life feud between Ferrari and Ford, that led to a nail-biting race. Ford, led by illustrious car designer and former racer Carroll Shelby pits his dear friend, infamous Ken Miles in the driver seat to take on the seemingly impossible. Beat Ferrari at Le Mans 1966.
Director: James Mangold. Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts [12A]
I think it is worth mentioning that this was originally a film I dismissed as just another popcorn feed and didn’t seem like anything worth its while. I can’t say why for sure, I suspect that it is Matt Damon’s attachment as somehow I overlooked the fact that Bale is attached and he certainly doesn’t just do any old flick for cash. I don’t think Damon is that bad but his track record as of late gives me lots of doubt with pictures with him involved. Which is why it came as an exuberating surprise to see him firing on all cylinders for Le Mans 66′. I don’t actually believe I’ve seen Damon act so terrifically since Good Will Hunting. Clearly not a popcorn feed, this was a passion project from all involved.
Damon fights to steal the show from Bale to my absolute astonishment. He is sensational as the gifted car mechanic Carroll Shelby, bringing the light touch and naturality he normally brings but with a subdued tension and trauma. That bounces off Bale’s loud, jovial and magnetic performance as the infamous Ken Miles. They pair together brilliantly. Not to let Bale’s superbly understated performance go amiss in my mentioning as you can go the whole movie without really noticing just how perfect Bale is as Ken Miles. It’s brilliant in its unremarkable nature, but when I say that I mean in the sense that like a chameleon changing colours it’s just something amazing you know to happen so it doesn’t stand out as something extraordinary when it, in fact, is.
The film pairs these two performances expertly against its tone and narrative. A story of friendship, perseverance and loyalty. The tone takes a far more light-hearted and gentle approach to its drama that cranks up the fun while maintaining a silver lining of deeply moving and captivating character drama. There is however a sore thumb wandering around during the film, intruding on its brilliance – the antagonist. More so the aide of Henry Ford The Second. Who feels like an antagonist out of a children’s film, being mean for means sake and siphoning off the main character out of unmotivated malevolence. It’s cheap and really brings down the scenes and time taken to play into this part of the narrative which does feel entirely wasted. While it is clear the film lacks in other areas where scenes have been evidently cut to account for the trimming of the run time.
The direction does have a laser-focused vision that proves itself through the dance of the narrative, editing and pacing – coming together in a thumping harmony. Le Mans ’66 has everything you might want from a movie, it has a triumphant feel-good factor, nail-biting action, nuanced character drama, pleasing cinematography and good old fashioned fun. Most felt during the titular race where a you really notice a lack of soundtrack in the film and think ‘you know what I don’t need it’ as the roaring sound of the engines and the diegetic sound of the race amplifies the tension of the plot. Every pit stop, engine malfunction, gear shift and tight corner made is not only seen but truly felt. This is not just a great action/racing film but a loving tribute that will fuel the racer in you.