Ford v Ferrari     aka: Le Mans ’66

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Le Mans '66
dir James Mangold
scr Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
prd Peter Chernin, James Mangold, Jenno Topping
with Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, JJ Feild, Ray McKinnon, Remo Girone, Ian Harding, Wallace Langham
release US/UK 15.Nov.19
19/US Fox 2h32

bernthal lucas letts

39th Shadows Awards
Noah Jupe

london film fest

damon and bale
There are plenty of exhilarating racing sequences in this revved-up drama about Ford's quest to best Ferrari at the iconic 24-hour French race. Director James Mangold captures the energy of the mid-60s period and the lively personalities of the men involved in this story. But the script is badly out of balance, creating a corny movie villain simply to add some tension, while ignoring Ferrari completely.
In 1965 Ford executive Lee Iacocca (Bernthal) convinces Henry Ford II (Letts) that he should beat Enzo Ferrari (Girone) at Le Mans, the race he has always dominated. They hire racing whizz Carroll (Damon) to design the car, and he hires Ken (Bale) to drive it. Ken's wife (Balfe) is happy that he finally has a steady job, and his son (Jupe) loves the roar of the engines. But even though Ken is the best in the world, the Ford execs don't think his renegade spirit represents their brand.
Actually, in the film it's just one Ford exec: Lucas' Leo Beebe, who is virtually a pantomime bad guy. Every time he appears on-screen, we wonder what petty nastiness he is concocting now, for absolutely no reason. This becomes distracting as the story progresses, because Ford isn't actually competing with Ferrari if they're being sabotaged from within. But that's all the script is interested in. Thankfully, Mangold also spends a lot of time swooping around race tracks in set-pieces that are genuinely heart-pounding.

It also helps that both Damon and Bale are so good in their roles, creating snappy characters who are fascinating even if their stories aren't terribly complex. Both on their own and interacting with each other, they're the soul of this film, a bromance that would have been a stronger central plot than the nonsense that utterly wastes Lucas. As the only female character, Balfe adds some wonderful edge that makes her funny and formidable. And Letts gets the film's best moment as the blustering billionaire suddenly brought down to earth.

Strong character moments and the superbly staged, shot and edited racing sequences make this movie entertaining. But by falling back on such a tired story structure, the filmmakers miss a chance to make something that would involve the audience on a deeper level. And by essentially leaving Enzo Ferrari on the sideline, there's a sense that we're only seeing half of the story. And perhaps not the most interesting half.

cert 12 themes, language 8.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall