Le Mans ’66, or as it’s known elsewhere in the world, Ford v Ferrari, is a film surprisingly about neither of those things. Its one about the unlikely relationship between Texan chicken farmer/racing driver/entrepreneur, Carroll Shelby, and the ex-pat Brummie Ken Miles.
The film starts underwhelmingly with a depiction of Shelby winning Le Mans in 1959, shortly followed by his health-related retirement. His step into building English AC Aces stuffed with US muscle and sold as Shelby Cobras leads him to a partnership with the unruly Miles. This is where the film shifts quickly. The story arcs from the start of the GT40 project through to the epic Ford domination of the 1966 race. Indeed, the whole film is devoted to the Ford side of the story. Whilst the alternative title suggests a big Ferrari presence in the film, Enzo’s only (very entertaining) appearance is to provide Henry Ford II with a reason to quash the Italian firm on the track, after the failed takeover bid.
The racing sequences are exciting, with incredible vintage cinematography tricks. Lots of low, wide, panning shots are reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans from 50 years ago. The only downside is the ridiculous changing gear halfway down the Mulsanne when needing to overtake – a Hollywood affectation we could have done without I feel.
Matt Damon as Shelby provides a smooth Texan ringmaster’s performance, and is countered by Christian Bale’s no-compromise Miles, who spends the film either annoying Ford’s top brass or driving the wheels off the test mule to get it ready for the big race. Miles revels in his role, and is upset when he’s left behind when Ford spectacularly fails to win in ’65. Only Shelby has faith that Miles is the secret weapon to bring home the big prize the following year. Therein lies the heart of the film and is the reason this will be enjoyed by not only racing fanatics, but also people without the knowledge of the events leading to the finale in 1966.
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