Where Hollywood continues to be Hollywood: Le Mans 66

In a time when cars were more than just a means of transport from A to B, car races were considered to be a modern version of medieval jousting contests. 

Perhaps the greatest joust of all was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a racing event that today, like so many others, seeks its own myth. Steve McQueen set a Hollywood memorial to the race in the 70s, but it also suggested to be the keystone of the memorial. The car races became smoother from decade to decade, the rivalry between man in machine against man in machine gave way more and more to the stable out appearance of a modern Formula 1 competition, in which rule violations turned invention of pretended default scandals. 

Same time Motor sport disappeared from the marvel of cinemas. A development that occurred to be final when cars no longer were a device of lifestyle but polluters of the environment and with it a technology in need to overcome. That James Mangold brought Le Mans 66 – Against Every Chance into the cinemas was therefore surprising from this point of view alone. But Mangold also used classic material to face the growing impact of LGBT culture, which prefers gendered themes, or at least characters written into the script. A film concentrating on two men, car racing and the Ford GT 40 would have been the most unsuitable place for Cinemas.

Le Mans 66 tells a real episode of automobile history, which – from an American point of view – has everything a good legend should have. Including a hero who never gives up, no matter what gets in his way.

The plot: Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford, decides one day to give the Ford brand, thought to be dull and boring, new momentum through car racing. The only problem is that the Americans can’t keep up in the international traffic, they lack experience and know-how. But at least they don’t lack money, and so Ford tries to incorporate the non-plus-ultra of racing: Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari is not averse at first, the Americans’ conditions seem to be fair, but as soon one can no longer control their arrogance on the other side of the Atlantic, Italian pride prevails and the deal bursts. What follows is a pivot. Henry Ford II, now for himself offended in his pride, pumps millions into a fresh racing team that builds an unfamiliar racing car in record time – and fails at Le Mans.

Le Mans 66 tells the story of racing legends Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Although Shelby was the last American to win Le Mans, his time behind the wheel is over for health reasons. He relies on Ken Miles, of whom he knows that he can handle racing cars like no other. But the Miles embodied by Christian Bale is sometimes a tough character. And while Shelby can still move in the slick and toadyish circle around Henry Ford II, Miles makes himself an enemy of almost everyone with almost everything he does. And Ford only leaves Ferrari behind by using his skills. But not even the first attempt to win Le Mans, ending the withdrawal of all Ford cars, can prove Henry Ford II wrong. Only when Shelby offers him a bet, according to which Ken Miles can start in Le Mans if he wins the 24 hours of Daytona, Ford gets on the winning track. This time it is the Ferraris that do not make it to the finish. Instead, all Ford GT 40s cross the finish line together, producing perhaps one of the most legendary images in racing history.

To the disadvantage of Ken Miles, because even if he crosses the finish line nose first, the regulations declare another Ford driver as the winner. The American hero who is British, which the film doesn’t tell in a big manner, is beaten by one of his enemies in management. A Greek legend – so to speak – in motor sport.

Le Mans 66 tells one of those authentic stories that you couldn’t invent. A heroic story that even today seems a little out of time. The fight for supremacy in racing between Ford and Ferrari cannot be told by fans of motor sport without at least once using the term “epic”.

Compared to the proper events, Mangold punishes little, but packs everything in a good 160 minutes of classic Hollywood entertainment. Carried above all by a Christian Bale, who embodies his character with the stoic will to win, without, however, not making it clear even in the smallest facial expressions that he can do so paying no price. He embodies the loving father and husband on the one hand, and the quick-tempered character, who in case of differences of opinion already smashes the windshield of the other. Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby is already a few steps behind, more like a second, a cue, in a film dominated by Bale. But still present enough not to let Le Mans 66 become a one-man show. 

Le Man 66 (USA 2019) – available on BluRay, DVD and various streaming services since April 2