Film Review: Le Mans ’66

James Mangold’s Le Mans ‘66 offers thrills in abundance. The bravura racing sequences are enough to overcome a flawed screenplay.

In the 1960s, Henry Ford II is looking for an idea to get the Ford company out of its slump. Ford decide to build a race car to compete in Le Mans, but need the right team to do it…

Focusing on Ford’s attempts to build a race car to win the Le Mans tournament, Le Mans ‘66 principally concentrates on a former driver turned designer and a successful but disagreeable driver.  The film focuses on these two and their motivation, with the wider history entering the fray at intervals.

The script, written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller is rather perfunctory. Miles is given depth in his character, while most others exist to provide a sounding board, or exposition. The dialogue, save for some amusing asides, is not great.  

To begin with, it appears as if Le Mans ’66 is going to be very pro-American, and very pro the great American corporation. Mangold subverts these expectations as the narrative continues, offering something much more critical. With the US title of Ford v Ferrari, viewers would be forgiven for thinking the film would set up a rivalry which permeates throughout. However, this is very much the Ford show, with the Ferrari team only having a peripheral role.  

Where the film excels is in its execution of the racing sequences. Here James Mangold shows his flair in delivering exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking scenes. The camerawork and editing are aided a good deal by some really great sound design. The freneticism of activity is effectively captured by Mangold. Christian Bale once again delivers a very convincing performance as Ken Miles. Matt Damon is on good form, Caitriona Balfe is given little to do but play the supportive wife. 

Le Mans ‘66 is a triumph of action over script. If the screenplay had matched the action, the film would have been a tour de force.

Le Mans ’66 is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

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