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LFF 2019: "Le Mans '66" - Christian Bale and Matt Damon race to beat Ferrari in effective biopic

November 19, 2019

Le Mans '66 focuses on the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari during the mid-1960s. The latter is known as the rich playboy’s elite sports cars of choice, whereas the former as the brand of choice for middle America’s families. After attempting and failing to buy the sports division of Ferrari, Henry Ford II (Tracey Letts) decides to build a car that will win the famous 24-hour race ‘Le Mans’ in 1966.  Ford enlists visionary automobile designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Kenneth Miles (Christian Bale) to help win the race and secure the manufacturers place in history.

 

The script is cliché, featuring all the familiar tropes that are displayed in most biopics. As common with these romanticised “based on a true story” type films, you will always hear every single accomplishment that the protagonist has achieved prior to the events of the film. Matt Damon lists every accomplishment of Christian Bale’s  (“Ken has won 57 races, greatest British driver ever, married to Catriona Balfe” etc.) in an attempt to wow the audience of how great of a person he is. Similarly, Jon Bernthal’s Ford executive lists off every achievement of Ferraris in an attempt to show how big and mighty they are in comparison to Ford (“you get it, we’re the underdog going up against the big giant”).

 

All the stereotypes are also on play here. From Damon’s smarmy and cool Southerner (he wears a cowboy hat for 80% of the film— just in case you didn’t already know he’s from Texas) to Bale’s cocky and stubborn Brit. These stereotypes might turn people off this type of film. But surprisingly, despite these criticisms, I was enthralled from beginning to end.

 

Photo credit: Allocine.fr

 

Mangold may have enlisted two of the biggest actors in Hollywood, but the real stars are the racing sequences. He’s no stranger to action, especially after the grueling scenes he created in 'Logan'. All the racing scenes are portrayed with visceral flair and intensity that liven and enrich the film. The boom and crack of exhaust reverberate through your body thanks to the excellent sound design, helping to transport you to the racetrack. These sequences make the film worth going to the cinema alone. 

 

Despite the formulaic characters, they are briliantly brought to life by the actors. Christian Bale, who elevates any substandard script, is characteristically wonderful. It’s surprising to hear him speaking in his normal accent for once.  Miles’ cockney patter makes for a sympathetic portrayal, assisting with the underdog image. The racing sequences may be the body of the film, but Bale is the engine that powers the film into first place. Damon is also solid, though his Texan accent at times did often seem like a below average Matthew McConaughey impression.

 

The film races by (no pun intended) at an immense speed despite it being two and half hours - never once does it feel like its length. At points however, I wished the script ironed out some of the exposition, which would have helped devote more time to develop the characters and their motives. Miles’ family are given a fair bit of screen time, yet I never felt the emotional connection that Mangold wants us to feel for him. We also hardly get to know anything about Shelby, leaving a severe lack of an emotional arc with his character.

 

Before the screening, James Mangold came out to introduce the film, saying that he wanted a similar feeling and style to the epics that Hollywood used to produce. In this way, he ultimately succeeds. Le Mans '66 comes with those problems that Mangold attempts to emulate, but thankfully captures that old-Hollywood charm that is so intoxicating to watch.

 

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor and Charlee Kieser, Deputy Digital Editor

 

 

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