British racing marvel Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is recruited by car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to create a car for Ford that can beat Ferrari at Le Mans 24 hour race. Facing scrutiny from the bosses and struggling with personal issues, the men strive to create a whole new kind of race car.
The film is largely a collection of sports movie cliches. The maverick genius who has retired but just loves it too damn much. The family who urge him to stay home but agree for him to take one last job. The corporate stooge who needlessly gets in the way and compromises the art of the hero. It’s all very familiar.
The filmmakers also have a dialogue problem. Frequently characters will state clearly visible things for the benefit of audience attention spans. “He’s difficult but good” says a character seemingly to no-one. “I think it’s his door” says a character entirely removed from the action after 15 minutes of Miles struggling with a door. There’s definitely some fat that could have been trimmed.
The racing sequences themselves are for the most part well handled. There’s a reliance on CGI for the big crashes which takes you out of the moment, but the actual driving is very engaging. It effectively communicates the drama and tension of a long race.
Bale and Damon avail themselves well. Both are convincing characters and have a fun dynamic. But ultimately this is a film about a war between the egos of two elderly rich, unlikable white men. There’s a subplot about Bale’s family and musings about the spirituality of racing but these, like so many others, are very inconsistent. John Bernthal is in the entire film but his role finished 30 minutes in with barely a line of dialogue in the last two thirds of the film.
Le Mans 66 makes for an entertaining cinematic experience but there’s little of real substance behind the shiny veneer. It’s a bumpy ride, to unleash a cliche if my own, but not without it’s pleasures.