Le Mans ’66: Too many laps to be perfect

Ironically, a sluggish plot and overlong running time encumbers the pace of this otherwise exciting film about being first to the finish line.

With gripping racing action and reliable star names, Le Mans ’66 (also known as Ford v Ferrari in the US), has received huge praise since its release.

James Mangold’s new movie hauled in more than £41m at the box office in its first two days. Matt Damon and Christian Bale are currently two of Hollywood’s most bankable actors, and reason enough for many film fans -even non-petrolheads – to take a chance on their latest effort.

Damon plays Carroll Shelby, the legendary American motorsport racer and car designer hired by Ford in the mid-1960s to end Ferrari’s dominance at the annual Le Mans 24-hour endurance event in France.

To lead them on the track, and help him develop the Ford GT40 race car to its full potential, Shelby in turn hired Ken Miles, a stubborn but ultra-determined and hugely talented British racer, portrayed with his usual laser-focus and a Brummie accent by Bale.

Potentially, the film’s biggest drawback in terms of having wider appeal, is its subject matter. Motorsport and fast cars tend to attract a particular (mostly male) audience. However, Mangold opts to centre his film on the rollercoaster ups and downs of the friendship between Shelby and Miles.

Thus, there is something for both car lovers and those indifferent to them in Le Mans ’66, and those early box office returns suggest that message is getting through.

Capturing the thrills and drama of motor racing on the big screen is not easy and needs a big budget, but Mangold’s movie works best when it is recreating the brutal, high-adrenaline nature of Le Mans in the 1960s, an era of motorsport when driver deaths were a regular occurrence.

However, the pacing of its narrative is the major drawback of this movie.

There was a doubt raised in my mind when I saw the length of Le Mans ’66: yes, it is about endurance racing, but do film-goers really need to endure 152 minutes in their seats to get to the chequered flag?

Undoubtedly, the quality of a movie cannot be judged by its length. However, a film of this duration suggests either redundant plot lines or, at least, some which take too long to unwind. This defect risks depleting the movie’s overall excitement and losing the audiences’ attention. 

Mangold spends too much time on the description of the background details and supporting sub-plots, taking too long to get to Ford’s historic 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans in 1966.

The endless boardroom bickering and point-scoring among Ford’s top executives, for example, may increase our empathy for Shelby and Miles, but it also serves to somehow lessen the audience’s backing for Team Ford when it comes to the big race.

Multi-billion dollar US conglomerate run by loathsome corporate sharks and hustlers versus the Italian romance of Ferrari’s passion for racing? You choose…

Le Mans ’66 trailer courtesy of 20th Century Fox