01 December 2019 628 Views

Le Mans 66 /Ford v Ferrari: Damon, Bale and Mangold Cross the Cinematic Finish Line in Epic, Stunning Style!

by James Murphy

See Jason Bourne team with Batman, guided by The Punisher, directed by the bloke who made The Wolverine:

 All in a movie about a car and winning an impossible Race. In France. In the 1960s. 

 

LE MANS ’66 / FORD V FERRARI models excellence and drives toward the glimpse of occasional perfection. Allow me to demonstrate, via automobile analogy..

  • THE ENGINE

This is a film driven by a love of science, commerce and the bonds of probity and decency among truly great innovators. You will feel for the two main protagonists (Damon as Carroll Shelby and Bale as Ken Miles) as they attempt the impossible: beating Ferrari in a seemingly unwinnable race; at once commissioned and yet also hindered by the machinery of the Ford corporation. These are  overlords of their trade, great at what they do. Somehow, they are also underdogs, in so far as they do not quite understand the machinations and politics of the business in which they are, nominally, stars.

It’s a measured, subtle and textured set up. The lead actors match that task, as surely as their real life counterparts rose to the occasion of greatness.

This is THE best simulation of driving I have seen in ANY film, anywhere. Not just the extremes of the racing car, mind. But driving, in general. Even the most basic, domestic trip around the block here is given new and vivid life. It’s just as good as any VR / 3D /AR / A N other computerised experience and possibly the closest one can get to an illusion of interactivity. Where so many movies have striven to make driving compelling and yet crashed at the last lap; Le Mans 66 /Ford V Ferrari, succeeds and beautifully so, triumphing to the end.

You do feel, somehow, as though you are in the driving seat! And that alone is a stunning accomplishment.

Therefore: even if one is – perish the thought – not one of life’s natural drivers or, God(s) forbid – not interested in motor racing – the movie is still one helluva good ride.

Yes, that’s correct. I was never much of a Formula 1 man. In part because the type of man who tried to interest me in it tended to be a bit too corporate or worse still, a kind of school run wally on a weekend outing, trying to look cool /macho.

Sorry. It’s a frightful prejudice, I know. Le Mans 66 /Ford v Ferrari just killed any such feeling and I am now, genuinely curious about a sport in which I showed zero interest previously. Once again: a testament to its strengths!

  • THE CHASSIS

It is very difficult to pigeon hole this piece. The genre is not simple historical or biopic or even the traditional ‘sports’ movie, though it touches on the tropes of each of those options. In a weird way, this is a war movie and that is even referenced, explicitly in the dialogue.

Our heroes here are weathered veterans of WW2, applying their skill set and lasting capacity for adrenaline fuelled conquest, to an even more frightening battle field of motorcars and corporate greed.

Once again, the casting there is pivotal because Matt Damon, Christian Bale and Jon Bernthal have an innate substance to them; movie stars of course but also, unselfish ensemble players and consummate craftspeople in their own, independent careers. So they fill the screen in their individual stories and there is clarity, vigour and economy when their eyes meet as story arcs crossover and the prizes are in sight.

Yes, we are now several generations, mercifully, removed from the grit /guts /glory of the ‘world war’; yet this trio of actors somehow echo, convincingly, the kind of superior qualities that win battles, be it onscreen or in war. So many actors nowadays are crowned action heroes or stars because they happen to do one mediocre, over-promoted movie. Here? Our leads have earned their power and consolidate it, continually, with aplomb, in every scene.

Is this purely a ‘guy’ film? As in just for blokes? Nah. Girls can watch and enjoy and Caitriona Balfe is an earthy yet elegant, understated yet distinct presence. She has genuine chemistry with Bale. Heck, even the kid here (Noah Jupe) is great; un-precocious, charming and quite natural as Bale’s son. You believe in the family dynamics at work, be they actual or metaphorical (corporate units; bonds of brotherhood in the arms of motor racing etc). 

Visually this is stunning. The tricks with lighting are truly magical and mesmeric, notably the night shoots amidst the rain.

There is a detail in the engineering; you FEEL the oil, the sweat, the wrench, the thrill of the chase and the frustrations of any setback. Even the boiling of a kettle / making of tea, somehow, takes on a vivid life of its own here. Very French in a way, and that’s apt for a film hinged on progress at a car race in..France. Yep. I mean, oui.

The landscapes are immersive, too. The air-craft hangar; the canyon; the desert dust; the road skid. But also the more intimate settings from kitchen sink to Board Room Table. Once again: attention to atmospheric detail: very precise and stylish and substantial at once, much like the subject matter that inspired the whole affair.

  • THE EXTRAS / ACCESSORIES

Every weakness in life is an overdone strength. So goes the old corporate mantra. And it’s right. Because for all its precision, the film occasionally veers into a kind of ambiguity of tone and genre. For all its individual episodes of pure speed and adrenaline, the whole film does drag in places and I do not mean ‘drag race’. One genuinely longs for a more comic book approach to music score, editing and pace overall and there is nothing wrong with wanting that.

Some movies require indulgent, lengthy transition between scenes. This one..doesn’t. It’s also ironic that a film about taking a joy in the risk and reward of innovation is ultimately fairly pedestrian in its style of editing as a whole.

Would ONE joyous montage have killed the serious substance at the movie’s heart? No! Ironically enough, that tried and tested design style is frequently a basis for breakthroughs in film (Rocky; Iron Man).

Even the casting is a BIT tired in places; whilst I praise the Damon /Bale / Bernthal triple act; one does not get treated to their full movie star ‘USP’. This is sold, via trailers, as though Bale gives a send up of his own real life meltdown. But his character is ultimately rather placid, even shy and focused, shielded by a Brummie accent exterior.  It’s also shame that they did not give a glimpse of the Ferrari camp to dramatise that rivalry beyond the shadowy occasional appearance of Mr Ferrari himself. This should be two teams, ‘out montage-ing’ each other. Josh Lucas is fine as Mr Corporate Marketing baddie though frankly, he’s done it before, many times and better.

Are we meant to be uplifted and inspired by the time credits roll? At one level, yes, it is clear that was the intention and as I have stated, you certainly go away with a greater sense of clarity about human struggle in any enterprise, with motor racing simply as viewfinder. But you are not jumping up and cheering, either and in part because the film’s end is drawn out and outstays its welcome somewhat, dramatising events that go beyond the morals and purpose of the story told (next time, just use the closing credit intro..or even a Marvel style mid credits scene).

  • THE FINISH LINE

LE MANS ’66 / FORD V FERRARI is a GOOD film, very good in fact. But misses being ‘great’ by one cinematic ‘RPM’. In that sense, it is a most encouraging companion piece to KNIVES OUT. Both are models of movie making at its most traditional, propelled by craftspeople at the very tops of their various games.

There is a move here away from gloss and shared universes and over-rebooted IPs and back into the embrace of more thoughtful, soulful, substantial fare. And that is to be applauded as it inspires a variety of emotion and provokes ambitious thought.

But let’s not forget that is also, ‘OK’ to be BOTH Oscar worthy clever AND a piece of pacy popcorn pulp entertainment. THAT kind of engineering, the reach for the seemingly impossible, via the bravery and joys of innovation, in the presence of the masses, is what perfect racing cars are made of. The same applies to the truly ‘great’ movie and whilst I would argue we miss that mark very slightly here, it is a truly worthy viewing experience, nonetheless.

Recommended, especially as a Dad /son movie and ESSENTIAL to fans of this sport/ its history/legacy!  A– VROOOOMMMM…

 



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