To win a race, all you need is “the right man behind the wheel”. James Mangold’s Le Mans ‘66 reminds us of this throughout as it recounts the story of car manufacturer Caroll Shelbey (Matt Damon) and race driver Ken Miles (Christan Bale), who made history building Ford’s revolutionary first race car. It was designed to go against Ferrari in the 24-hour Le Mans race in 1966, a race that only Ken Miles could win.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale are phenomenal in this film, but the real man behind the wheel is James Mangold. He explores the two men’s friendship with such profundity that it becomes essential to the plot. His knack at crafting characters at once dissimilar and well-suited to one another accentuates the foundations to the film. Shelby struggles with demons from his past and Miles attempts to prove his self-worth to himself; these internal struggles give them a pure and authentic affinity with one another. At the premiere, Mangold admitted that the two stars are rather dissimilar in real life, describing them as “oil and water”.
Le Mans ‘66 draws you in. You’re immersed in the drama and tension building up to the final race. However, what was most admirable was how the film was not the over-glorified Hollywood movie you might expect with two A-list Hollywood actors. Mangold does not waste his time with over-dramatisation and melodrama. What may seem like a classic underdog film with a thoroughly exhausted plot is in fact an entertaining movie with an extremely well assembled cast and a reliable script.
But let’s not forget the spotlight of the film. The race scenes are some of the most exhilarating sequences I’ve seen in a long time, perfectly complemented by the artistic soundtrack and visual effects. What made the film original was the genuine racing footage – and the lack of CGI. Mangold’s immersive approach puts you in the passenger seat alongside Miles.
His vision takes you to the finish line, providing all the sensations you’d expect from watching a racing film. Le Mans ‘66 is undoubtedly one of the most pleasant films this year.