James Mangold’s latest picture is not without its flaws, but it’s so impeccably well-made that it’s hard to spot them. When it comes to good, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment, Le Mans ’66 is the film that all summer blockbusters aspire and fail to be.
The film tells the story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively), who together helped build the Ford GT40, with the aim of beating Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
There’s no denying the formulaic nature of the screenplay, but it’s not always fair to criticise a film for simply being ‘formulaic’ (Bridget Jones’s Diary is so wonderfully entertaining that it’s easy to forget it follows the same structure as most other films of the genre). It’s not the generic narrative that’s the problem; it’s what you do with that narrative that separates the good from the bad.
This might be a story you’ve seen before in many forms, but the execution is riveting, joyous, moving and brilliantly well put-together. These are the things that matter, and Le Mans ’66 has them in spades.
Mangold knows how to direct an action scene, and his execution of the film’s racing sequences is virtually flawless. Coupled with top-notch sound design and a decent score from Marco Beltrami, it’s in these moments that the film commands your full attention.
The dialogue can sometimes be a little clunky, with Christian Bale in particular being given some weak lines throughout. It feels so much like an American’s inaccurate interpretation of how we English actually talk, that it’s surprising to discover two of the film’s writers are in fact London-born. It’s easy to feel for Bale, but he’s so charismatic and likeable that he manages to disguise and sell it. Bale and Damon share great chemistry; it’s always enjoyable to watch two masters at work.
Le Mans ’66 is far from ground-breaking; it’s fairly safe, generic and by-the-numbers; undoubtedly too long and the dialogue is occasionally questionable, but what it does offer is a seriously good time. This film has rock-solid entertainment value, confident direction, and strong performances from two absolute professionals. It may not be perfect, but it’s a welcome viewing experience and one to revisit.
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