Le Mans '66

Le Mans '66


Matt Damon and Christian Bale, both returning to their boyish, likeable modes, race cars and squabble like brothers in Le Mans ’66 (also known as Ford v Ferrari in some places). It’s a 1960s period piece that works best when it stays on track (literally) in the crush of competitive pressure.
Carroll Shelby (Damon), the inspired Texas car designer whose heart problems stalled his career behind the wheel, and Ken Miles (Bale), the British-born driver who would come to dominate the field, were a real-life duo born to be at the centre of a chatty action movie.

Logan director James Mangold loads the drama up with banter in the style of Howard Hawks (Hawks’s own Red Line 7000 features Shelby’s cars) and even has the two men wrestling in the dirt while a wife patiently waits it out, a scene stolen from Red River.

The larger setup, though, reveals the film to be one of those oxymoronic anti-corporate studio movies that tries to celebrate individuality while keeping things stiffly in the middle of the road. Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) hopes to make a name for himself beyond his father’s reputation – he’s convinced by various suck-ups (Jon Bernthal and a clownish Josh Lucas) to take on Italy’s Ferrari at the 24-hour Le Mans showdown and, maybe, to recast the Ford Motor Company as something sleeker. (“Kids today, they want glamour,” says Bernthal’s Lee Iacocca.) This kind of intrigue around rebranding may play well for any stray marketers in the audience, but it’s a dull peg to hang a movie on – the film stalls whenever it’s trying to be Mad Men.

Thankfully, that’s not the entire focus. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brings an electric clarity to the driving scenes, especially when Le Mans is pounded by a rainstorm and the whole idea of a non-stop race seems like a death wish. And Damon and Bale are unfailingly enjoyable company to keep, steering the psychology away from alpha-male dominance to something more complex and occasionally mystical.
Either way, it ultimately wins you over.

James Mangold

November 28

By Joshua Rothkopf | 27 Nov 2019


Le Mans '66
DirectorJames Mangold
CastingMatt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal