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Le Mans ’66: a race car revolution

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You don’t have to know about cars to enjoy the story of the rivalry of Ford vs Ferrari

HAVING not seen any adverts pre-release, I was not sure what to expect from Le Mans ’66. I am also not a fan of motorsport, so I was completely unaware of the partnership of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles and their attempts to design a car for Ford that would be capable of beating the dominant Ferrari team at the 1966 24-hour race at Le Mans. Despite this, I came out of the cinema feeling thoroughly gratified and rewarded by what the film had to offer.

Taking place in the wonderfully- realised automotive world of the 1960s, Le Mans ’66 focuses on the dynamic relationship of Shelby (Matt Damon) and Miles (Christian Bale) and how they navigated through corporate meddling to create the iconic Ford GT40 racing car. This relationship is the real core of the film, with both actors playing off each other perfectly. Damon plays the American car visionary with ease, bringing the necessary optimism and ambition to the role. Bale also shines as the hot-tempered, sardonic, but determined British racing driver Ken Miles.

Unfortunately, the script is unkind to Bale at times, making Miles seem more a caricature of working-class Britishness than a believable character. His constant clichéd quips about cups of tea and ham sandwiches get a little ridiculous. It’s obvious that his part was written to service the US stereotypical view of Brits, but I couldn’t help but feel a little insulted.

Aside from this, Les Mans ‘66 succeeds in almost every other avenue. The tone alternates between upbeat playful hopefulness and nail-biting intensity and the film is clever enough to not take itself too seriously. In a story that easily could have been translated as a hyper-intense thriller, the blend of drama, comedy and the thrills of the racing itself makes for a satisfying and entertaining movie that anyone can enjoy, petrolhead or not. The construction and testing of the iconic car is fun to watch as the tension builds to the titular climax. When the fateful race finally starts onscreen, the effects are a real treat to watch. You really do feel like you’re in the passenger seat and it makes for a truly nail-biting cinematic experience.

Besides the racing, the plot is otherwise taken up with Shelby and Miles having to do battle with the Ford bigwigs, as well as anticipate the Italian threat of Enzo Ferrari and his team. The human drama is good enough to cope with the racing spectacle. The interference of those high up in Ford makes you just as angry as the protagonists themselves and their victories make you feel just as happy.

All in all, Le Mans ’66 is not a complex or a highly-intellectual film, but it is a truly enjoyable one. It hits all the right spots with its wide-ranging soundtrack, immersive 60s setting, exciting story and good acting. Les Mans ’66 will certainly race into the hearts of motorsport fans with its variety of beautiful retro cars and believable racing visual effects, but whether a fan or not, many will go away from this one satisfied.

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