Johnny Chern, Print Screen Editor, reviews recent release Le Mans ’66, and the characters behind the cars
Gears crunch and an engine whizzes. Tires burn and skid around the tarmac. ‘I just wish my daddy was here to see this,’ Henry Ford Jr. (Tracy Letts) weeps, after Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) takes him for a spin in the fastest thing Ford Motors has yet produced.
Onlookers ponder whether big titan boss Mr. Ford has soiled himself (being taken above 200 MPH on an airport runway), but Shelby is proving a point: not anyone can drive a car with the respect and tact it deserves.
Testing engineering against its physical limits takes character, and that’s exactly what Christian Bale provides as Ken Miles. With a strong Brum accent and mounds of lip to dish out, Bale turns Ken into a family-man motorhead, whom is only interested in speed and yet is somehow down-to-earth. One thing is clear, though: no one races like Ken does.
What takes centre stage in the film is the passion that Shelby and Miles have for speed.
Director James Mangold has a knack for both biopic and action, so there is little surprise that a film like this should be his forte. The film succeeds in cutting up track-time with family time, all the while synthesising an international business rivalry into a kinda macguffin to get Ken in a car seat.
In the US the film has been marketed as Ford v Ferrari. Why? I don’t know… But going by past precedent in similar cases I’d shoot that Hollywood people probably doubt other people can pronounce a four-letter French place name. That, or they were really keen to get an American name in there and spell out the business rivalry between Ford and Ferrari. Ford were harsh an American, they were about quantity over quality, and they were the complete antithesis to Ferrari.
But that rivalry between Enzo and Henry is on the periphery. What takes centre stage in the film is the passion that Shelby and Miles have for speed. That relationship – the one between Ken Miles and the race track – is the strongest.
I’m no racing enthusiast – I really have never bothered to learn how to drive – but Le Mans ‘66 is one of those films (like Rocky) which teaches you about a sport by making you spend time with intriguing characters first.
Thank you to Exeter Picturehouse for the screening!