Review of 'Le Mans '66 (Ford vs Ferrari)'

ford_vs_ferrari.jpg It is the 1960s and at Ford Motors headed by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) sales are down. Executive Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) pitches the idea that if Ford were to win at the prestigious Le Mans 24 hour racing event they would attract the attention of car buyers. After an attempt to purchase Ferrari ends in failure, Iacocca approaches Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former car racer who makes and sells cars, to see if he can help. Shelby realises he will need help so enlists the reluctant Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a knowledgeable car racer and mechanic who is known for his straight-talking which is quite against the ethos of the corporate-minded Ford. Miles' garage has been closed by the IRS so ultimately agrees. They are given only 9 weeks to prepare for racing at Le Mans but just before the race Miles' is told that he will not be participating due to his non-conformist talk. Ultimately technical problems previously pointed out by Miles manifest in the car and they lose…but then, they are given another chance.

As a fan of motor racing I found this film quite interesting as it talks of a history I was not previously aware. Putting that aside, this is a quite an entertaining film as the underdog works with a big corporation in it's battle against the might of a legend in motor racing, Ferrari. Demon is wonderful as the smiling, affable Carroll Shelby who struggles with the desire to keep Ford happy as well as the desire to win which often seems to be conflicting. Christian Bale does a reasonable job as the English racer and mechanic, spouting off the technical jargon with deep sincerity, utterly convincingly. His character Miles' relationship with his wife (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) is never far from the story as he palpably struggles to keep it all together - His love of his family and his love of the sport. Bale manages to successfully portray this conflict in his nuanced performance.

The portrayal of the 1960s is, as you might expect, spot on and feels quite real. The racing scenes are particularly well done and manage to really convey the reality of driving in that period complete with the much more lax safety. There is some cheating here that doubtless some pedants will spot but this is really for the few, for the rest of us we get the gist of it.

The film never really drags with action throughout. What might surprise many is how the story proceeds and, ultimately, how it ends. It is this that keeps the viewer engaged along with the tremendous sense of drama and fun of the main characters who never really completely bow to the big corporations that lurk over them. The scene where Shelby, seeking to promote his friend Miles as driver, shows Ford what car racing is really like is priceless and quite convincing.

An enjoyable, realistic car racing drama that manages to touch on the human aspects of the sport and provides yet another criticism of big corporation involvement (though, to be fair, the corporations do manage to at least slightly redeem themselves).

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-03-01

Directed by: James Mangold

Studio: Chernin Entertainment

Year: 2019

Length: 152 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Other reviewed films by James Mangold: