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Archive for November 5th, 2019

Last night I attended Cineworld’s secret screening.  I was delighted by the choice of Le Mans 66, not only did it proved to be a really enjoyable film, but also one I was really interested in. This is not a review of the film but does contain some plot details that may be considered SPOILERS. Le mans 66

When I heard about Ford v Ferrari as it was originally billed (and is still called in other territories) I was excited. I had read about Carroll Shelby as a kid, and seen lot about him on TV.  The only driver to win Le Mans in a Aston Martin. A race he drove in against doctors orders knowing he could die at any time from a heart condition.  I’m pleased to report he survived the race, and lived for another 53 years until the age of 89, but that’s another story. He was the man responsible for the legendry AC Cobra, and the Shelby/Cobra versions of The Ford Mustang.  As this story tells, he was also the man behind Ford’s Le Man winning team, and the development of the GT40, the car that beat Ferrari.  A Le Mans Story only rivalled by the epic Bentley v Mercedes battle of 1930.

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The story started really started with Lee Iacocca (who passed away earlier this year aged 94), the man credited with saving Ford. In a bid to make Ford sporty and sexy (he had already been instrumental in the introduction of the Ford Mustang), Iacocca proposed purchasing Ferrari. A company second to none on the track, but nearing bankruptcy.  We will never know if Enzo Ferrari didn’t want his company owned by Americans, or if he always intended to sell to Fiat, and used the Ford deal to push the price up, or as is alluded to in the film it was a disagreement over total control of his racing team.  The film doesn’t dwell on this, it concentrates on what happened next.  The epic battle to beet Ferrari on the track, more on that to come.  When I heard the title was being changed from Ford v Ferrari to Le Mans ’66 I thought it was a mistake, as the original title was stronger, more evocative.  However, having seen the film, it makes sense.  As the film explains in its one (or possibly two) Basil Exposition moments, Ford were not really at war with Ferrari.  Ford were at war with Chevrolet; Ferrari was a battle they got into along the way.  Chevrolet were beating Ford, in the new key younger marketplace with the Chevelle, and were considered a more desirable and exciting brand thanks to the their success on track with the Corvette.

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All good stories, or at least interesting ones, are about people, not things, and this film is about people.  Not Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, but Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, played Christian Bale and Matt Damon.  What I didn’t expect was how much the film is about Ken Miles, possibly even more that Carroll  Shelby.  I knew a little of Ken Miles going into the movie, I had read about him, again as a kid, pre Internet, so didn’t know that much.  But what I did know, was like me he was from Sutton Coldfield, Then a small town in Warwickshire, now a suburb of Birmingham, West Midlands. Nobody famous comes from Sutton so I was intrigued. The most notable thing I had read about him was the end of the 1966 Le Mans race, that I won’t spoil for those who don’t know.  There are so many movie “inspired” by real events where you find charters are composites, or creations of the film makers, as far as I can tell, the key characters here are all real.

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The film whips along at great pace making you forget the two and half hour runtime.  It also sticks firmly to the most important rule of cinema, show don’t tell! As mentioned, there is very little exposition or explanation.  One such thing is the actual origin of the car.  There is a moment in the film where a prototype is flow from England with no real explanation.  What actually happened: after the Ferrari deal fell through and before Shelby was onboard, Ford looked for a partner company who could help them.  They turned to the home of motorsport England, initially talking to Formula One teams Lotus (already a partner on other projects) and Cooper, but settling on Lola.  Lola had already built the “The Lola Mk6 GT”.  Three Mk6 GT’s were produced, taking many of the ideas Cooper had introduced to F1, most notably the mid mounted engine, and putting them into a V8 GT car.  One of the three cars actually competed at Le Mans in 1963, but crashed out.  The GT40 was developed in England by an American Ford team.  The car competed in various races in 1964 without success, notably retiring from Le Mans after 14 hours without being in contention.  This is where Carroll Shelby came in, and the origin of the car we see in the film.  At this time, Shelby’s Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe had just won its class, and finished fourth overall at the 1964 Le Mans.  His car started life out as the AC Ace, a lightweight British sports car, Shelby turned it into the AC Cobra with a stiffer body and a Ford V8, and for endurance racing a GT/Coupe body.  At the time, the road going version, the AC Cobra 427 was probably the fastest production car in the world. To find out what happened next, you will need to watch the film, and/or the excellent 2016 documentary The 24 Hour War.

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As mentioned, this isn’t a review, but I couldn’t end without a few thoughts.  Director James Mangold may not be the biggest household name, but his career highlights are pretty impressive: Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Logan (2017).  Two of his actors have won Oscars; Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted. I mention this as the cast are all fantastic: Christian Bale (Ken Miles), Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby), Caitriona Balfe (Mollie Miles), Jon Bernthal (Lee Iacocca), Tracy Letts (Henry Ford II), Ray McKinnon (Phil Remington), and a special mention for Josh Lucas who does a great job as the films requisite hissable villain Leo Beebe.  Christian Bale even attempts a hint at a Birmingham accent, while Caitriona Balfe as his wife manages a very convincing one.  As mentioned the film is long, but it never feels that way, the story moves along never dwelling on a moment too long.  There are plenty of moments of tension and drama, and just as many of levity and comedy, largely thanks to Bale and Damon.   The film looks and sounds fantastic with extremely well shot and edited racing scenes that are and totally convincing.

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Going back to my earlier point, this is a film about people, but it is also a sports film, a film about fighting the odds.  This is why it works as a film, and not just a motor racing film.  If like me you are a bit of a nerd for motorsport, you will love it, but you don’t need to know the first thing about cars or racing to enjoy it as a film.

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