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  Le Mans '66 The Humans Race
Year: 2019
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon, JJ Feild, Jack McMullen, Corrado Invernizzi, Joe Williamson, Ian Harding, Christopher Darga, Shawn Law, Emil Beheshti
Genre: Action, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) used to be a racing driver - he won Le Mans in 1958, one of the most gruelling races on the sporting calendar, but any hopes of repeating that victory or any others were dashed when his doctor told him he had a heart condition and if he tried racing again, he would surely die. Understandably upset, he channelled his interest into car design and working behind the scenes on motorsport, which was how he came to be involved in the United States car giant Ford, who had been persuaded to enter the fray to boost their profile among the younger vehicle buyers who were threatening to reject the brand for not being cool enough. But what about a driver?

Step forward Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale in one of his most colourful performances, relishing the British vernacular he could indulge in at every turn from a screenplay co-written by Brits Jez Butterworth and his brother John-Henry Butterworth, and American Jason Keller. Though this project had been stuck in development hell for the best part of a decade, director James Mangold was utterly convinced he was the man to bring it to the big screen, and thanks to him coming in off the back of recent success, he managed to get the thing done and dusted, with the effect that it was one of his most acclaimed films, such was his aptitude for the presentation of speed and era.

Really, getting the period detail correct was half the battle, and Mangold was assisted by excellent production design, cinematography and visual effects to craft a version of the mid-sixties that was never anything but convincing. Although Quentin Tarantino that same year had been admired widely for his recreation of the Hollywood of a few short years after, that was a fantasy at heart, and Le Mans '66 was determined to be as convincing as possible, so if anything it was more satisfying in that regard. Certainly, if you had any interest in cars or even motorsport, you were going to come away feeling you had enjoyed an ideal two-and-a-half hours of movie, which never dragged once.

But if that was not your thing, would you get as much out of it? You would have the advantage of the plot surprising you, for a start, but thanks to two terrific, complementary performances at its heart, and a selection of action sequences on the track that were as vivid as anything out at this time in the name of raising the pulse, this was dramatically impressive. If there was an issue, it was that those two central characters tended to feel emblematic rather than three-dimensional in too many scenes, but Damon and Bale were too skilled to allow that to be too much of a problem, and papered over the tokenistic nods to personality that could have been written as so much more with stylings of great humour, determination and when the role asked for it, warmth. They seemed to be doing a great deal with comparatively little.

The plot got around its central conceit of making a massive corporation a plucky underdog, pretty difficult to swallow in other hands, by concentrating on the individuals caught up in the world of big business, like a boardroom drama taking regular diversions to high octane motor racing. Shelby and Miles were portrayed as rebels within the system rather than its lackeys, and Jon Bernthal as Lee Iacocca much the same as their inside man, no matter what they may have been like in reality. Entertaining sequences established this: the two leads brawling on the lawn when their macho posturing erupts, or taking big boss Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts on equally good form) for a test drive that reduces him to tears of shock and sentiment. Abrasive Miles had doting wife (Caitriona Balfe) and son (Noah Jupe) who idolises but worries about him, to humanise what could have been caricature. If on examination many of these could easily have been villains in concept (Josh Lucas does his usual assholian act with aplomb), it was to its credit you enjoyed their company. Music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

Aka: Ford v Ferrari

[Fox's Blu-ray has a lengthy featurette as an extra. Looks and sounds great, too.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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