Le Mans '66 / Ford vs Ferrari

“Le Mans ’66” (aka “Ford v Ferrari)” reviewed

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Six years since Ron Howard turned Niki Lauda and James Hunt’s fight for the 1976 Formula 1 title into Rush, Hollywood has taken on another piece of motor racing legend.

James Mangold, whose recent films include Walk the Line and Logan, has turned the clock back 10 years earlier than Howard did for Le Mans ’66. Outside Europe, where restrictions on sponsorship are less strict, the film is called Ford v Ferrari. This would – or at least, should – make for a better title.

The first act sets up the contest between Ferrari, who won the great endurance race for the third year in a row in 1962, and Ford. The American giant’s unsuccessful attempt to purchase Enzo Ferrari’s financially struggling operation makes for some of the film’s most entertaining scenes, notwithstanding the absence of star draws Matt Damon and Christian Bale from them.

Ferrari’s taunt to his rival across the Atlantic triggers Ford; he vows to beat Ferrari at La Sarthe, and green-lights a rival Le Mans programme headed by Carroll Shelby (Damon). The Ford versus Ferrari rivalry is established. And then immediately forgotten.

Act two seems to come from a different film entirely, in which Ford’s top brass repeatedly clash with Shelby’s skunkworks operation which it tasked with fettling the GT40 into a Le Mans-winner. Much of this revolves around their distaste for Shelby’s preferred race driver, development ace Ken Miles (Bale).

Perhaps my expectations were off. Maybe in those regions where this is being marketed as ‘Ford v Ferrari’, the word ‘Ford’ fills the canvas and ‘Ferrari’ is rendered in eight-point type.

Le Mans '66
Damon’s performance as Shelby carries the film
Happily, Ferrari reappear as Ford’s adversary in time for the denouement at a painstakingly-recreated Circuit de la Sarthe. The film reaches a conclusion which, as those who know the period will expect, is poignantly-tinged.

Motor sport fans should find plenty to enjoy here providing they remember that, for us, picking holes in the plot and quibbling over historical accuracy are part of the fun. In this kind of project, film makers have to tread a line between keeping the nit-pickers satisfied and entertaining the mainstream crowd. The latter, of course, should make up the majority of the film’s box office take.

The film employs a range of devices to keep the non-motor racing literate audience clued in on what’s going on, with varying degrees of success. Miles’ son is repeatedly deployed for this purpose, and ends up looking like the offspring of Austin Powers’ Basil Exposition.

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But the lengths the producers have gone to render the cars and tracks of the time deserves appreciation. Especially Le Mans itself, which involved the construction of a vast set for the start/finish area complete with pits and press boxes, while rural roads in Georgia double as impressively convincing facsimiles of Arnage, Mulsanne and the rest.

The intensity of the action doesn’t quite measure up. Given the difficulty of obtaining a large enough field, the obvious thinness of the entry can be forgiven. What can’t be is the lapses into cliche – the infinite upshifts and the sudden realisation that the throttle pedal can go all the way to the floor.

Le Mans '66
Miles’ role in the team is a focal point of the film
The period details seldom disappoint. One brief scene in a Ford factory required 20 semi-complete Falcons to be arranged. For the scenes in Italy, the famed Ferrari factory gates and Enzo Ferrari’s office were created, again to a superb standard.

It’s just a pity that, having gone to such lengths, they didn’t use them more. While the boardroom intrigue at Ford gets the full Mad Men-with-cars treatment, the depiction of their Ferrari rivals is one-dimensional at best.

The opening scenes hints the rest of the film will show where Ferrari went wrong but all we get is what Ford did right in spite of themselves. It’s not as if there weren’t stories to tell: Ferrari’s ejection of John Surtees from its driver line-up would have been an ideal counterpoint to Ford’s wrangling over Miles.

Nor did they give themselves too little time to tell the story. It clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours. There’s no shortage of superfluous scenes from the flabby middle act which could have been left on the cutting room floor. These include a pair drawn straight from the box marked ‘Hollywood cliches’: Miles’ high-speed argument with his wife and a trailer-friendly Damon-Bale brawl.

So having gone to see Le Mans ’66, while knowing it was in fact Ford v Ferrari, what I ended up watching was Ford v Ford. That, plus the under-cooked racing action, made it somewhat of a disappointment, though one with plenty of visual treats plus the occasional laugh for motor racing fans.

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Rating three out of five

Le Mans ’66 / Ford v Ferrari

Publisher: Twentieth Century Fox
Published: 2019
Released: November 15th (UK)

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 20 comments on ““Le Mans ’66” (aka “Ford v Ferrari)” reviewed”

    1. My only hope is that this film tries to stick to the truth, the Ford GT40 MKll which won the 1966 Le Mans was a british built and design car, so lets hope the building and designing of the car in the film focuses on Slough in the UK not america where is wasnt built and would be untrue

      1. The descriptions I’ve seen suggest the British roots of Ford’s project are entirely airbrushed out of the picture, so as to cater more to the US audience the film seems to be more oriented towards.

        It seems to also skip over a lot of the earlier failures that the project endured as well, not to mention that, as Keith and other reviewers have noted, the representation of Ferrari’s side of the story is a one-dimensional hatchet job where they are reduced to shallow stock characters. Overall, it sounds as if the film does play a bit fast and loose with the truth for the sake of dramatic narrative, which is to the detriment of the finished product in the end.

        1. From the trailer it seems like they are glorifying Shelby for the 66 GT and it seems like the studio is squarely targetting US audience.

          I am waiting for release of this movie in India, have already skipped terminator(poor reviews) hopefully this wont disapoint.

        2. Yes, anon, that is correct. The movie is very “america first”. My neighbor owns the Lola that Shelby & Ford based the project around. It was loaned to the production for shooting yet he wasn’t entirely sure they got the story straight. Particularly, that it took several years for them to achieve victory, including 1965 when Jochen Rindt beat Ford in a privateer Ferrari on Goodyear tires that even Ferrari (and/or Dunlop) didn’t want to win, rather than 90 days as the trailer suggests. It seemed, that in spite of the truth, the studio exec’s & marketing had other idea’s. Matt Damon, and his good performance aside, is a poor choice for Shelby. Matthew McConaughey would’ve been more accurate, if accuracy was important. Although Christian Bale as Ken Miles looks pretty spot-on. Here is piece on the Lola MK6 — https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/classic-cars/videos/a32524/lola-mk6-ford-gt-gt40-le-mans/

          1. @fast: That Lola is gorgeous. Those Cortina tailights are cool too.

            Will skip the movie until I’m really bored of watching Season 5 of Drive to Survive (Spec Series Edition) on Netflix.

            1. @jimmi-cynic – yes, it’s a real masterpiece and those tail-lights are super-cool too!
              Camilo Pardo, who designed the 2005 Ford GT, agrees and visits Allen often, along with his own 2017 GT — wearing competition gloves & boots when he drives! Quite a sight if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

              Haha…sad, but probably true. I’d join you on skipping it yet my wife (clearly in the studio’s target market) recently saw the trailer. She was very excited to tell me that there was a new racing movie I would like that we could go see together. And, to not to ruin it for her with any spoilers or pointing out inaccuracies!

              The audience has spoken….
              After Keith’s review, I’m not so sure but as the saying goes: happy wife, happy life :-)

    2. It took me a long time to watch Rush and I found it rather mediocre, and I expect it’ll be the same with this.

    3. Mmm… even trailers looked tome as an artificial piece of nonsense.
      Coupled with this review… skip (i.e. the only way I will watch it, if I am stuck on some long-haul flight, my phones are dead and this movie is the ONLY movie available on entertainment system)

    4. I can’t wait to see this movie! The buzz surrounding this film in the U.S. has been quite positive. I know, for instance, a lot of non-racing fans of mine have told me they plan on going to see it. The cars are not the stars of the movie, it is Matt Damon and Christian Bale who are. Anyone who has seen Walk the Line or Logan can feel pretty good that Ford Vs. Ferrari is gonna be really good and entertaining.

      If you are interested in historical accuracy, then there is a Ford/Ferrari at Le Mans documentary you can watch on Amazon Prime. If you want to see a movie focused solely on the cars, then I am sure those die hard gear heads have Steve McQueen’s Le Mans that they can pop into their VHS or DVD player to give their car fix.

    5. I must have woke up with my cynical hat on today. When the trailer started playing “Gimme Shelter” I produced a giant eye-roll. It is a great movie song, but over-used, and seems like in this case it fits into the cliche category.

    6. “Outside Europe, where restrictions on sponsorship are less strict, the film is called Ford v Ferrari.”

      That’s absurd. The whole thing arose out of a personal feud between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. Those were their names, for pity’s sake.

    7. and the sudden realisation that the throttle pedal can go all the way to the floor.

      Oh no. These scenes are probably my least favourite in all of cinema.

      1. @hugh11 same. Like they spent 2 and a half hours telling you how great and brave the protagonist is, only to show he was kind of struggling because he wasn’t pressing the throttle hard enough.

        It’s one of the reasons why I loved Rush. They didn’t show anything like that. You knew Lauda or Hunt were giving it the full beans all the time.

    8. Good steer from Keith here, this is probably one I will watch but not at the cinema.
      I suspect the “superlative” in the penultimate para is actually meant to be “superfluous”.

    9. So basically, as I’ve read the amazing book that is”Go like Hell”, I can save myself 2hrs and 12quid.

      The story of Ford/Ferrari at Le Man’s is something that is an excellent story that actually happened. It doesn’t need anymore to be flexible with the facts, or clichés, just stick to the facts. I’d argue that most of the people this film is aimed at is the racefans who love the history of motor sports and the type that actually want to see the accuracy in the film.

    10. Thanks Keith. I’m looking forward to seeing this… it’s a good story and I expect a watch yarn, re-told from one perspective (an American one) where the dastardly Europeans are the bad guys, the British brains do not feature at all and the grand ol’ USA wins the day. It’s to be exected, and let’s face it, this is not a documentary. Nit-pickers spoil the fun. I like to get lost in a film and am happy to suspend my logical brain for a few hours, which is why I go to the cinema after all.

    11. I just love all the anorak-wearing, race-car nerds complaining, “it’s too American” “they didn’t get the proper shade of Ken Miles’ hair”, “it’s too American”, “the steering wheel was not brown it was black” and my favorite, “they didn’t give credit to all the spectacular British ingenuity and made it look…wait for it…too American”.
      Yes, Ken Miles was a HUGE part of the development in the car and its subsequent success. Yes the body/chassis was sourced from Lola. Both British. On the other side of the coin, Carol Shelby, Ford (specifically Ford’s money, the only thing that really made the car go), and the engine were all American.
      I’d like to think, as Carol Shelby thought, that we do our best work together. Carol took a formula that had won for him in the past: take one light, nimble British-built chassis, add the power of an American V8, and you have success.
      Plus, it’s a theatrical movie!!! NOT a documentary!! If you want a documentary go watch “The 24 Hour War”.

    12. Watched this an hour ago in the cinema. Really enjoyed the movie, and great acting by most of the actors involved. Was a thrilling and engaging watch from start to finish and great less characters.

      Not enough if an expert to know how close to history it stuck to (I know the LeMans story on a basic level) but it was not a problem, it was just a damn nice two and the half hours.

    13. There’s a documentary on Netflix at the minute, ‘The 24 Hour War’, which has a pretty good overview of the whole Ford / Ferrari battle. I recommend it.

    14. DeeAnn Hopings
      13th January 2020, 17:44

      I saw Ford v Ferrari on the 2nd day after its introduction. I had been waiting for months since release information broke during the summer. As disclosure, I’ve been a motorsports fan since the mid-50’s and am fairly well acquainted with the Ford GT40 and how its race program developed.

      I think what people miss is that there are actually 3 stories that are obviously intertwined: Ford and Ferrari from a corporate standpoint, Ford and Shelby as a clash of corporate and racer mentalities and finally Shelby and Miles. The movie is mainly focused on the 2nd with a fair amount of the 3rd, but very little on the 1st. For the non-racing fans, I don’t think viewers are aware of how different the corporate cultures were at that point. There is very little in common once you get past the facts that the companies were run by the person with their name over the door and they build 4-wheeled vehicles. After that, it is pretty much complete divergence.

      There is a Night and Day difference between Ford corporate culture and the racer’s mentality. In those days race teams were pretty small and there was no design by committee that you would find in corporations. I think there is also the thought from the Ford side that results can be manipulated for their benefit and marketing interests. This shows up in 2 ways: their discounting of Ken Miles’ contributions for not being a ”Ford man” and in the bungling of the finish at LeMans.

      The relationship between Shelby and Miles was a strong and loyal one. However, what was important was for Shelby was manage the situation between Ford personnel and Miles. Shelby knew that Miles was his ace in the hole, so he needed to minimize Ford’s meddling in the running of the team. That allowed Miles to maintain his focus on doing what he needed to do from a development and racing perspective. To me, it is easy to see that heavy handed interference by Ford could have driven Miles to leave. Clearly Shelby and Miles were very passionate about what they were doing and it showed in their accomplishments.

      While we can quibble over some of the factual inaccuracies and the fake dramatics, the visual aspects of the movie were Very well done. Quite a feat after 40+ years and with a minimum of computer generated imagery.

      It should be clear that this movie, like RUSH, is a human story that is set against a motorsports backdrop. It is not just a “car movie”. And, in any story about high stakes, strong personalities and intense competition, the atmosphere is intense. It’s a Human thing.

      Anyway, if you haven’t seen the movie, go see it!

      If you have seen it, tell you friends!

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