Le Mans ’66, also known as Ford V Ferrari over the pond, is the first film that was made with Screen X technology in mind. What is Screen X you may ask? It’s a 270-degree screen, made out of three screens that stretches to the sides of the auditorium. It’s meant to immerse you in the film more than 3D or 4DX by expanding the action to catch your peripheral vision.
Le Mans ’66 was filmed with extra cameras to specifically create a unique Screen X experience and while the technology may not prove to be quite as immersive as it’s designed to be, it surely makes for an interesting cinema experience.
The film’s title is a reference to the 1966 Le Mans race in France. If like me you’re unfamiliar with what that means, not to worry, director James Mangold takes you through it all in the film. Le Mans is a 24-hour race that tests the durability of not only the drive but also the car. If Formula 1 is about the driver, Le Mans is about the car. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and former race driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) are tasked by Ford, eager to change the public’s perception of the brand, to create a car that can win the notorious race.
It all sounds awfully dry on paper, but Le Mans ’66 is a superbly exciting film. It takes a while to get going and the beginning moves at a snail’s pace, but once we get out to the race track and the stakes are higher, it’s almost like a whole different film.
Screen X is utilised mainly in the racing sequences, which are superb in any format. It’s not a necessary feature in any way and in the beginning the tech feels unnecessary and intrusive. The extra screens at your sides light up the auditorium and draws your mind to the fact that you are indeed sitting in a room with 100+ other people, which is something you’re supposed to forget. The film’s slow start doesn’t help this, but once we enter the races, you mostly forget about this and it makes for interesting viewing. Cars speed by literally on your sides, which raises the stakes even higher, you experience it in a different way.
The technology must go hand in hand with the editing and in the case of Le Mans ’66, it’s hit and miss. It’s at times distracting and poorly executed, but at times the film’s several editors nail sewing the film and the tech together. During the climactic Le Mans race, Bale’s Ken Miles pulls out of the pit to re-enter the race and while he speeds off, the screens expand to the Screen X mode, which feels like a great addition to the film and it’s the perfect way to utilise the tech.
As a film, Le Mans ’66 is good, almost great but it never quite overcomes its clunky start. It feels weighed down by the clumsy and overly heavy dialogue, which never quite flows. The film is at its best when letting Christian Bale do his job; the actor once again crafts an intimate portrait of an ordinary man doing something extraordinary. Damon, whose character is much worse served by the script makes up for the lack of depth with instant and easy charisma, proving himself yet again as one of the most watchable actors alive. We get an insightful look into the inner life of Miles, but Shelby remains a complete mystery and the film never works as the two-hander it clearly wishes to be.
Surprisingly, it’s Noah Jupe who plays Miles’ young son Peter who comes out as the real MVP of Le Mans ’66. Jupe often reflects our own feelings; the fear and anxiety on his face perfectly mirror our own during especially stressful racing scenes. He perfectly captures Peter’s innocence and excitement as he observes his father. Miles’ relationship with Peter is the real heart of the film, but Mangold knows this is not a weepy, sentimental film. There’s plenty of heart here, but it’s all about the men and their cars.
And as expected, the real star of Le Mans ’66 are the race scenes. We have a few decent test runs, a couple of smaller drives at the beginning of the film, but it’s the Daytona race that really showcases how good of a film this is. It’s heart-rate increasing and breath-taking, it’s where Mangold really shines. The film’s last act, the 24-hour Le Mans race that everything has been building up to, is also an impressive showcase of Mangold’s talents behind the camera. How do you keep up tension for sequence covering 24 hours of men driving in circles? Mangold knows we know the outcome and the conflict of the race doesn’t come from who wins or loses but on what terms. It’s filmmaking at its best.
Dir: James Mangold
Scr: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts
Prd: Peter Chernin, James Mangold, Jenno Topping
DoP: Phedon Papamichael
Music: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders
Country: USA / FRANCE
Runtime: 152 min
Le Mans ’66 is out in UK cinemas 15th of November.