This is an interesting one: not because of the story in which the film depicts, but because nobody really has to worry about spoilers. You see, Le Mans '66 (or Ford vs Ferrari in the USA) is based off a true story and targeted towards the petrolhead - a rare thing in the cinema world.
Precisely because of this, I'm willing to bet that the majority of the audience will already know the story. This is the type of film which immerses you in automotive history and takes you back to a time when racing was a 'professional blood sport' (as Steve McQueen put it in his very own Le Mans film from 1971!).
But anyway, we're not here to talk about McQueen and Porsches. This is the story of the Ford GT40 and the strong bond between Texas chicken farmer, Carroll Shelby and Brummie racer, Ken Miles. And boy, did it deliver.
(But if you are concerned about spoilers, don't bother reading on).
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
It certainly kicked off in the right place: 1959, the Le Mans 24-hours, and Shelby is seen in the midst of his pre-Cobra career in an Aston Martin DBR1 thundering through the night in the pouring rain.
After briefly catching fire, we then see a transition into the Doctor's office where it's revealed that Shelby's heart condition became pretty severe. I guess his love for cars and constant dosage of nitro-glycerine pills were the two main things that kept him going.
Nevertheless, we're then introduced to Miles in a rather comedic manner; in the form of his little business in tuning MGAs. A short argument with an unhappy customer gives us a sense that the Birmingham-bred racer is a fairly difficult personality to get along with when others try to oppose him.
I think the introductions were done pretty spot on; we get a real sense of what positions the characters are in and ultimately, how they came to where they are. But if you ask me, the driving in the Aston scene was used far too much CGI and it should've been filmed so it appeared a bit more gritty and realistic. Mind you, this aspect was improved in later sequences.
Image source: 20th Century Fox
Fittingly for a racing-orientated film, there were a lot of driving scenes. You easily got the sense that they were filmed at a slow pace before the footage was sped up in the edit. I feel when film-makers have an opportunity to remind people of a truly historical event in automotive history, they should replicate it as accurately as possible.
So, therefore I think real racing at real speed should've been used. Imagine how much more thrilling that would've been for the audience; just look at Grand Prix (1966) and Le Mans (1971) and it's little wonder why they're so highly coveted.
But as the technology has developed, I guess you could compare Le Mans '66 to Rush from a cinematographer's point of view. But that's not to say that my heart was having it's own little race when the driving scenes were happening. It was really great and immersed me massively, but it definitely could've been more realistic.
Image source: Wikipedia
Also - and this is really geeky of me - but some of the replica cars used were plainly awful. A scene where the Ford executives were given a tour around the Ferrari factory revealed possibly the worst 250 GTO recreation I've ever seen. Couple this to a supposed 250 California which looked exactly like the one from Ferris Bueller's day off!
That's not to say I don't respect replica cars being used in films; I get that genuine examples of Ferraris, Cobras etc. are incredibly expensive to source, but at least make said replicas accurate. They managed to do so with the GT40s...
What's equally annoying is that they managed to source some rather nice examples of real cars. In that same shot of the California, there was a genuine 275 GTB parked right next to it!
Anyway, rant over. Le Mans '66 isn't all about cars, it also stresses the almost-unbreakable bond between Shelby and Miles. In my opinion, that's what the film absolutely nails.
It's obvious that Shelby wanted Miles to play a huge part in the GT40's development - including the execution of Ferrari's ego (by that, I mean race victories). He eventually did and in the two-year time lapse, where we can faintly hear the radio coverage of the 1964 and 65 Le Mans races, it's evident that Ford's decision to not give him a seat in those years was a huge mistake.
Miles listens to the coverage and all of the reported problems. He quietly whispers to himself of all the faults the cars were having in France while he was in the workshop - you could tell he knew the cars inside out and could possibly build one with his eyes shut. This is a beautifully shot sequence and I never expected Christian Bale to suit a character more. The casting was spot on and the script was a masterclass.
Image source: 20th Century Fox
One scene in particular that really emphasised the true friendship between Miles and Shelby was at the closing sequence. After the crash that tragically killed Miles, Shelby pulls up to Miles' house and has a short chat with Ken's son, Peter. You could tell at this point he was desperately trying to hold back tears - in fact, he came close once he hopped back into his Cobra and fired up the engine.
This says the bond between the two was more than just a racing companionship; it was a friendship, a buddy story, a tale of emotions that just happened to evolve around several cars.
Is Le Mans '66 the best film of the year? I'd certainly say so, but only because of personal bias as to me, cars make more sense than people. But to the casual Joe who likes films, I bet it's a strong contender.
Thanks for reading
So, there we are: my review of Le Mans '66 (or Ford v Ferrari for respective audiences). Do you agree? Have you seen the film? What are your thoughts? Let's discuss in the comments.
Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed reading.