Anyone who knows me knows that I have pretty much zero interest in cars. As long as they can get me from A to B, reliably and comfortably, then that’s good enough for me. I have even less interest in watching cars racing round and round and round at high speeds for hours on end too – if I wanted to experience any of that, then I’d just go and stand on a bridge overlooking the M25 for a while. So, a movie about a team of American engineers and designers looking to build a Ford racing car with the potential to finally beat Ferrari in the 1966 Le Mans race in France? Well, that doesn’t immediately sound like it’s going to be my kind of movie. But, a great looking trailer and cast got me interested and, in the end, I am so glad that I saw it.
Le Mans ‘66 (or Ford v Ferrari as it is known elsewhere – a much better name, no idea why it needed to be changed!) stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale (Bale once again going through some weight loss for a role) as Carroll Shelby and engineering partner Ken Miles. Shelby was the first American to win Le Mans, the 24 hour race in France, back in 1959, but has since retired from racing due to a heart condition. These days, Shelby designs and sells souped-up cars as well as running the racing team Cobra, along with British racing driver Ken Miles. Shelby is calm, very clever and extremely determined and Miles knows pretty much everything there is to know about cars, but isn’t exactly what you might call a good ‘people person’. Together, they have a wonderful friendship and partnership, the highs and lows of which form the basis and heart of the movie.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor company is suffering from poor sales and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is looking to his workforce to come up with the next big idea in order to try and boost the Ford name. One of the many corporate suits we see during the movie, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes that Ford buy into Ferrari in order to create a winning sports car that will make Ford cool again among the kids, so they head off to Italy for a business meeting with Enzo Ferrari. That meeting doesn’t quite go according to plan, and the suits return home with their tails firmly between their legs, and with a strong desire to go to war with Ferrari in order to teach them a lesson.
Ford puts his money where his mouth is, pretty much writing a blank cheque for Shelby so that he can do whatever it takes to come up with a car that’s worthy enough to defeat Ferrari and win Le Mans ‘66, and we then follow Shelby, Miles and their team as they struggle to make the dream a reality. Problems arise when Shelby is repeatedly put under pressure by the corporate suits at Ford to ditch Miles, feeling that he doesn’t quite fit with the Ford image, and this puts considerable strain on both the project and the friendship between Shelby and Miles, eventually resulting in a comedy street brawl between them, reminiscent of the famous brawl involving Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones Diary!
Caitriona Balfe plays Miles’ wife, Mollie, and it’s great to finally see her out of the period costumes she usually wears on TV show Outlander. It’s a role that could so easily have been relegated to being clichéd long-suffering spouse, sitting at home with baited breath watching hubby race, and while there is a fair bit of that in this movie, she does prove to be a strong and worthy addition to the cast. As does Josh Lucas, one of the dastardly, clueless suits who thinks he knows best. It’s a fantastic, jam-packed cast, but never detracting from the central Shelby/Miles friendship and dynamic.
I’ve come this far without talking about the race itself. There are a number of enjoyable, smaller races throughout the movie, giving us a taste of the high energy, intense camerawork to come, but that’s nothing compared to the 24 hours of racing we get when we eventually arrive in France. As Shelby and his team look on from the pits, watched over in the stands above by the suits from Ford, and by team Ferrari in the stand next to them, Miles takes it in stages with other drivers as they try and win the race, through the night and in some heavy, treacherous rain, dealing with car problems they’ve previously experienced and worked upon earlier, as well as yet more meddling from those pesky suits.
The pacing of the race is just perfect. Putting you right in the heart of the action, occasionally cutting to the drama in the pits and between the team, all the while desperate to get one over on the all powerful Ferrari. This is a movie that can be enjoyed by petrol heads, and non enthusiasts like me, in equal measure, and I had an absolute blast watching it. Highly recommended.