BFI London Film Festival: Le Mans ’66

Le Mans '66
Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe and Tracy Letts
Screening at LFF October 10th and 11th 2019

by Alex Plant

The great success of Ron Howard’s 2013 film Rush, was that it managed to make a movie about Formula One racing accessible to and compelling for the uninitiated, through solid performances and some breakneck filmmaking. James Mangold’s Le Mans ’66 contains similarly great performances, but has a significantly slower pace, which feels like a sin for a movie in which humans reach speeds of up to 200mph.

It’s a shame really, because the driving sequences really are fantastic. Mangold puts the viewer firmly in the driving seat (and occasionally on the hood) of Ford’s first foray into motor racing. These moments are truly exhilarating, aided by a thunderous high octane score from Marco Beltrami, though they’re occasionally hampered by some out of place but likely unavoidable CGI augmentations. Still, you’ll wish the time between driving sequences were shorter.

Bale and Damon are expectedly excellent as prickly British driver Ken Miles and racer-come-designer Caroll Shelby, respectively. Though, the film that in th US is called Ford v Ferrari occasionally feels like it could be America v Everyone. There’s a level of pigheaded patriotism in the way this film almost villainises the Ferrari team and conversely champions the industrious American spirit. Much of Bale’s dialogue seems to dial his britishness up to 11, uttering words like “pillock”, “yampy” and constantly craving cups of tea, leading it to feel almost parodical at times.

It’s overlong and contains a few bizarre decisions when it comes to major plot developments, but the strengths of Le Mans ’66 are very strong indeed. Great performances all around and some of the best racing sequences ever committed to film will please casual cinemagoers, but this is a film that feels like it was made very much for gearheads.


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