Le Mans ’66
10th October 2019 9.15pm at Odeon Leicester Square
10th October 2019 8.05pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
11th October 2019 2.00pm at Odeon Leicester Square
In motor racing, no victory is possible without the right person behind the wheel. Le Mans ’66 is not just a well-oiled machine – it’s also a well-tamed one. The film’s fuel is the historic collaboration between British-American race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), charting their battle against corporate bureaucracy and the laws of physics in order to build a revolutionary sports car for Ford that can win against Ferrari in the titular competition.
Bale sits at the steering wheel of this movie in more than one sense: his performance leads us round every bend, through every gear change and every near-miss. His bristly yet buoyant Brummie performance reaches a delightful compromise between hot-headed and softly sardonic – though the screenplay’s use of British colloquialisms as a comic tool becomes a little cringey, and the literal spanner lobbed into the works is more effective when it comes to humour.
Indeed, the comedy sizzles in this picture, and Damon’s performance provides a cooling agent for Miles’s hot temper whilst still allowing him a few tantrums of his own, capturing the frustration of a man who has had to put his own dreams on the back seat. As Mollie Miles, Caitriona Balfe provides strong female backbone – fortunately the film steers clear of the worried wife cliché and Ken’s spouse is actually the one to push him on despite knowing the dangers.
When it comes to the antagonism, however, the film falls a little flat, presenting the classic Hollywood bad guys in flashy suits. James Mangold crafts two starkly different worlds, pitting the grease-stained garage against the polished desks and leather files of the Ford offices. Ferrari, too, are reduced to sneering smirks. This is a movie that knows how to market its message: engines over image. But though it falls short on nuance, it certainly gets us on side. We root for the men who get their hands dirty, who maintain these machines and risk their lives in the process. Immersive sound design and cinematography place us in in the car alongside the drivers: we feel the purring engine, see the road disappear beneath us. This raises the stakes, the fear of brake failure imminent at every corner. We brace for a crash, and yet when it comes, it’s still catastrophic.
Mangold’s latest feature practises exactly what it preaches; it’s not the horsepower but the handling that leads it full-throttle across the finish line.
Le Mans ’66 is released nationwide on 15th November 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Le Mans ’66 here: