In 1966, British racing driver Ken Miles developed the Ford GT40 with car designer Shelby Carroll. The car entered the 24-hour Le Mans race with the hope of Miles winning Sebring, Daytona, and Le Mans in the same year. More than 50 years later, his achievement is part of the latest film by Logan and Walk the Line director James Mangold.
Starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, Le Mans ’66 retells the collaboration between Miles (Bale) and Carroll (Damon), as the Ford Motoring Company hires the latter to develop a new racing car to beat Ferrari at the eponymous race.
First of all, the title is misleading – the Le Mans sequence is only a small part of the film and even its alternative title, Ford vs Ferrari, barely sums it up. The latter insinuates that the film explores the two companies in detail but there is minimal relevance to it here. If anything, it should be titled ‘A Brief History of the GT40’.
While Le Mans ’66 slowly begins to develop, there isn’t a lot of clarity in its direction. From Ford’s failing times to the tumultuous friendship between Shelby and Ken, it’s unclear as to where this story takes audiences unless the viewer is a fan of motorsports.
With the race becoming an increasingly clear focal point, the plot eventually focuses on Ford being the winner, rather than Miles’ emotional journey or the collaboration between him and Shelby. It is also a shame as the project soon becomes a labour of love for the duo only for Ford to use it to make them look good. Due to this singular narrative, most of the action takes place on a track or a workshop so there is an Inconsistent level of the collaborative screenplay between Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, as well as Jason Keller.
The film’s irregular performances also exacerbate this unevenness. Damon mostly hides behind a pair of sunglasses and makes an impact in a handful of scenes. In addition, Josh Lucas is practically typecast as Ford’s corporate stooge Leo Beebe, whose personal vendetta against Miles threatens Shelby’s progress.
One of the film’s few saving graces is Bale’s performance as Shelby, who comes across as the more emotionally invested in the GT40. His love of racing challenges his relationships with wife Molly (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe), who sense his dedication better than the suits at Ford.
Despite the inconsistent development, the direction shines during the intense racing scenes. Having previously worked on Mangold’s Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael boldly captures the excitement of the race and the thrill of the chase, allowing the action to guide audiences around the track.
Overall, Le Mans ’66 offers a great performance from Bale and beautifully shot races, but with little else to offer, it is a recommended watch for motorsport fans.