First things first – about the title (Ford v Ferrari) – I guess the title swap is designed to avoid any American audience confusion with the Steve McQueen (the actor) film from 1971 – Le Mans. Regardless, for this Yank, this film will sit in my memory as Le Mans ‘66 since I saw this at this year’s London Film Festival.
Onto my thoughts under the cut –
I found this to be an interesting, based-on-actual-events story which covered a whole lot of ground:
- Former race car driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and partnership with a Ford Motor Company struggling to maintain relevance. This triggered and the battle within the company on how to move forward, with a young of Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) playing a central role.
- Shelby’s relationship with Ken Miles (Christian Bale).
- Ford’s battle to create a high performance sports car capable of rivaling the dominance of Ferrari and his eponymous cars.
I will heartily admit that on its surface, this is a story and these are events which would not immediately grab me. However through the strength of performance, the overall result was a well executed and engaging story (even if a bit predictable).
A less effective part for me was the personal dynamic between Ken Miles and his wife (Caitriona Balfe). Trust, it hurts me to say this as I am a massive Outlander fan and generally think that Balfe is ace. But in this role, it just did not ‘click’ for me. Their story seemed plopped into the larger narrative ‘just because,’ creating a slight imbalance. For example, the only thing we find out about Shelby outside of his dealings with Miles is that he has a tricky heart and he needs to slow his roll if he does not want to drop dead from cardiac arrest. And in a story where the two men are more or less co-equals, that felt a little off.
Also, throughout the film, a handful of well intended, light moments generated an audible chuckle from the audience. But for me at least these felt a little out of place. But I get where they were going with it.
Now for some positives …
By far the coolest element in Le Mans ‘66 for me was anything involving race car sequences – both in and out of competition. The director, James Mangold, pulls off some fantastic shots that left me fully invested with the tension and exhilaration of the moment(s) presented. And to think, this is only a fraction of what the actual drivers behind the wheel found themselves experiencing.
As I previously mentioned, the performances overall were on point. In particular, the two leads work is noteworthy. At this point, it is a well-established fact that Bale is an intense performer, with every role being something to keep an eye out for. That is no different here. But throughout the film, I found myself really studying Matt Damon with a keen eye. In the final analysis, it was a rather effortless performance. I think that is pretty high praise to bestow upon a screen performer – it is rather tough work to be achieve this.
Originally set to hit multiplexes this past summer, the shifting in the release schedule means the producers are confident that it is a contender as we enter the ever-important awards season. My thoughts? It is no better or worse than several other films in my experience which land at this place on the cinematic calendar.
While motor racing enthusiasts will probably find some joy in watching this (more so than others), for my money, Le Mans ‘66 has the potential to also appeal to a sizable portion of the general audience.
Ford v Ferrari/Le Mans ‘66 hits screens this Friday (November 15th).