Le Mans '66 | movie review
Or Ford v Ferrari if you live somewhere brand names are allowed in movie titles.
Movie summary: American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference and the laws of physics to build a revolutionary race car for Ford in order to defeat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. (IMDb)
While I did watch Formula One a lot when I was younger, endurance racing was never something that I had any real interest in other than knowing that there was a 24-hour race at Le Mans and that was about it. I just want to give that little bit of background because, despite limited knowledge of motor racing, I absolutely loved Le Mans '66 and wish I'd gotten to see it sooner.
It's a 'sneaky' movie in some ways, almost as if director James Mangold was some kind of 'film chess' grandmaster, positioning all of the pieces without you realising before springing the gripping ending on you and making you realise just how incredible a job he'd done to get everything set up that well - to say I was 100% invested is verging on understatement.
For me, Le Mans '66's secret weapon is Christian Bale's fantastic performance as Ken Miles. Okay, it might not be much of a secret considering he's one of the leads, but I'm now pretty sure that this is his career best performance for me thanks to just how much of an all-round, fully-developed and layered human being he manages to make Ken feel like.
Much like the movie itself, it's a 'sneaky' performance - subtle would actually be the best fit here really - where you don't realise what an amazing job Bale is doing until there's something threatening Ken, at which point I felt incredibly protective of him and wanted him to succeed just as much as Matt Damon's Carroll Shelby. There are very, very, very few actors who I think could've come close to matching Bale's efforts.
Being one of the leads obviously helps, as we get to spend a lot of time with him, but it's more the fact that we get to see him in a variety of emotional situations, ranging from anger to happiness to determined to caring to philosophical to petty. Bale makes all of this feel natural and keeps Ken relatable and likeable, even when being a bit of dick - the key trick being that he never comes across as being mean.
The other lead is the previously-mentioned Shelby, played by Matt Damon, who is also really, really good but has more limited characterisation than Bale's Ken Miles. Le Mans '66 does ultimately feel like it is the latter's story more than the former's, so it does make sense, but Shelby is still a great character to watch and would be a standout in any other movie.
The rest of the cast is pretty great too, with some praise having to go to Josh Lucas as the slimy Ford executive, Leo Beebe. I get that the movie needed some kind of antagonist and Beebe is probably the best fit for that particular role as far as the people involved in the real world events are concerned, but reading up on it afterwards shows that he wasn't quite as bad as depicted here.
As far as the racing scenes go, it's another example of the movie's excellence as they are also amazing and serve as pitch-perfect counterweights to the drama happening off the track. The final showdown at Le Mans takes up a big, big chunk of the movie and it's entirely deserved, feeling almost like a mini-movie in its own right with highs and lows, and ebbs and flows that kept me glued to the screen.
I will say that I think the non-US title of Le Mans '66 is actually a better fit for the story we see than the original Ford v Ferrari. Yes, the movie is about Shelby and Miles trying to design a car for Ford that can beat the dominant Ferrari team, but they have to deal with so much shit from their own side that it would've been more accurate to call it Shelby and Miles v Ford v Ferrari! Naming it after the event where everything comes together - in every sense - feels far more fitting.
In case you couldn't already tell, I love Le Mans '66 and will praise and recommend it to anyone and everyone who ever asks for a film recommendation from me. Bale's performance is my favourite ever of his and the rest of the movie does its best to try and match him, which makes for a fantastic experience that I've already watched twice more since first seeing it in the middle of April this year.
Le Mans '66 is a genuinely brilliant movie that absolutely deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars due to how damn-near perfect every single part of it is - with Christian Bale's performance as Ken Miles somehow standing out in the excess of excellence exhibited here. Even if you don't like sports or racing movies, I'd still thoroughly recommend that you watch this if you get the chance - it's that good.