Le Mans ‘66 tells the story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles two of the key men who were behind the Ford GT40, one of the most successful American racing cars ever as they took it to the 24 hours of Le Mans race in an attempt to challenge Ferrari’s dominance. The film follows the small company of Shelby American trying to operate despite the huge pressure from the corporate monolith Ford, led by Henry Ford II, to conform to their ideals.
This is one of the classic stories in racing history, and Le Mans ‘66 brings it to life through a focus on these two central figures. Shelby is a former racing driver, forced to retire through health reasons, whilst Miles is a brilliant driver who many find difficult to work with. The pair are connected by the obsession with making the GT40 the fastest car they possibly can, and doing something no American car had ever done before winning at Le Mans. The way the writers and James Mangold, the director, contrast this with the rigidity and image obsessiveness of the Ford employees is fantastic. It is clear that a company like Ford that just churns out cars would never have been able to compete at this level of racing. Instead it needed the ingenuity and out of the box thinking of outsiders like Shelby and Miles.
Portraying Shelby and Miles is Matt Damon and Christian Bale respectively, and they are a huge factor on what makes Le Mans ‘66 work so well. For Bale this is reminiscent of a film like The Fighter where he’s giving a big and extravagant performance, but with all the subtleties and nuances you would expect from such a great actor. Damon meanwhile is the more subdued character, often acting as something of a foil to Bale’s bigger performance. However there’s a couple of scenes in the film where Damon absolutely killed me, and really delivered some knockout performances. The other stand out performer is Caitriona Balfe as Miles’ wife Mollie, whose performance is similar to Damon’s in its more grounded nature and her ability to deliver big emotional punches when needed.
But you cannot have a film about motor racing without showcasing some racing. And motor racing on film isn’t always the easiest to show off. Rush did a brilliant job, but there aren’t too many other that stand out. James Mangold however knocks it out of the park as the director. The racing scenes are brilliantly shot, utterly thrilling, and a good representation of motor racing. From smaller racers we see at the start to the big one like Daytona and Le Mans Mangold always manages to inject them with all the dynamism we’d expect from racing. The racing sequences mean that this is a film that is a must see in cinemas.
As a sports movie Le Mans ‘66 is an absolute blast, but as a biopic its fantastic. Telling the story of two remarkable who led a small team despite the corporate pressures working against them, this is a rich story, powerfully told and with some incredible performances.