It’s hard to think of a better recent example of dad-approved lazy-afternoon viewing than James Mangold’s Le Mans ‘66. Its combination of old-fashioned motorsports, tough-guy heroes, and loving reconstruction of the Sixties mark it for the ITV Sunday-dinner slot. This is a shame, because the movie’s standout achievements are its race sequences, and these are best seen on the big screen with the sound pumped way up.
Thundering engines, squealing tires and spectacular car-on-car carnage punch through this motor-western that otherwise crawls from cartoonish broadness to leaden self-seriousness. Christian Bale plays daredevil driver Ken Miles as a Carry On character for some reason, while Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby drawls his way through the role of good ol’ boy telling the suits where to stick it. The likes of Jon Bernthal and Ray McKinnon do some solid sweat-and-grit character-acting, but Mangold fails to find anything for Caitriona Balfe to do other than roll her eyes as Miles’ long-suffering mother-wife Mollie.
Bale and Damon make a number of speeches that don’t quite sell the profundity of making a car go very fast, but there is a clarity and dynamism throughout the visuals, sound and editing of Le Mans ‘66 that makes it hard not to feel the thrill of crossing every finish line. Mangold and his team make sure the audience is always clued-in to the stakes and the structure of each race, and the resulting immersion makes it all the more alarming when the bass rumble of a roaring engine jolts through your cinema seat.
The motor-giant-as-scrappy-underdog story may not play well outside of a certain Top Gear set, and it’s tough to really feel for characters painted in such broad strokes. However, Le Mans ‘66 runs on a fine-tuned engine of technical filmmaking that supercharges its moments of high-speed thrills.
CAST: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, John Bernthal, Tracey Letts
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
WRITERS: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
SYNOPSIS: American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.