Fast and curious in Le Mans 66
14 November, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Le Mans 66
LE MANS 66
Directed by James Mangold
THE story of an ex-pat fixing up cars in California – and then driving a sports car faster than anyone else could to win the chequered flag at Le Mans – is at first glance what this thrilling motorsport tale is about.
But on closer inspection, it is also a consideration of the megalomaniac tendencies of men born into great wealth.
Henry Ford II spent a lifetime at the helm of his father’s company, trying to channel his dad’s industrial genius while also adhering to Ford’s employment practices. When Enzo Ferrari was rude about the cars his firm created, it was a red rag – he was determined to pour his company’s power into creating a racing car that could win the Le Mans 24-hour race, a competition Ferrari considered theirs after enjoying success after success.
We meet oil-grimed car mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale), an Englishman living in California, whose garage specialises in MGs and other imports, while at the weekends he is winning tin trophies at raceways.
His talents both as an engineer and driver are recognised – as is his spiky English character.
Meanwhile, top driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) has been forced into retirement from the track by a dicky ticker and so focuses on building and selling sports cars for his firm.
A worrying fall in sales for Ford in the 1960s, as they struggled to shake off an image of boring, safe, unoriginal cars, prompted their executives to look at ways to sell their vehicles to cash-rich 17-year-olds. At a board meeting, exec Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) persuades Ford (Tracy Letts) that to look sexy they need to make an impact in the world of racing – and so set their eyes on building a car that take on Ferrari.
Le Mans 66 has two stories running concurrently: the racetrack action, brilliantly put together – you’ll gasp for air as the cars accelerate down straights and through corners – and the buddy-buddy friendship between Ken and Carroll.
Scenes that break this film up from being a straightforward racetrack bromance include a take on the boardroom politics at Ford – and their feelings of inferiority towards the classy-looking European car manufacturers.
Both Bale and Damon have great chemistry, and there is heroism in their tale.
Some scenes are unintentionally, funny – the little pointers to the American audience that Ken was from Blighty are played up. He seems to constantly be needing a nice cup of tea.
His accent sounds vaguely Lancastrian (Ken was actually from the West Midlands), but Bale has managed to avoid sounding too much like Dick Van Dyke.
Adding to this, his son Peter is shown to be watching the Le Mans race wearing a 1960s Burnley FC shirt (though, it being ‘66, there is a slim chance it is meant to be a West Ham top – if so, the film-makers might have made a
David Cameron-style gaffe as the badge looks like it’s the Turf Moor Clarets).
None of this takes away from a charming, and ultimately tragic, film. Miles was a key figure in 1960s motor sport, and his memory is done justice by this telling of his story.