Film Review: Le Mans ’66

James Mangold’s Le Mans ‘66 offers thrills in abundance. The bravura racing sequences are enough to overcome a flawed screenplay.

In the 1960s, Henry Ford II is looking for an idea to get the Ford company out of its slump. Ford decide to build a race car to compete in Le Mans, but need the right team to do it…

Focusing on Ford’s attempts to build a race car to win the Le Mans tournament, Le Mans ‘66 principally concentrates on a former driver turned designer and a successful but disagreeable driver.  The film focuses on these two and their motivation, with the wider history entering the fray at intervals.

The script, written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller is rather perfunctory. Miles is given depth in his character, while most others exist to provide a sounding board, or exposition. The dialogue, save for some amusing asides, is not great.  

To begin with, it appears as if Le Mans ’66 is going to be very pro-American, and very pro the great American corporation. Mangold subverts these expectations as the narrative continues, offering something much more critical. With the US title of Ford v Ferrari, viewers would be forgiven for thinking the film would set up a rivalry which permeates throughout. However, this is very much the Ford show, with the Ferrari team only having a peripheral role.  

Where the film excels is in its execution of the racing sequences. Here James Mangold shows his flair in delivering exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking scenes. The camerawork and editing are aided a good deal by some really great sound design. The freneticism of activity is effectively captured by Mangold. Christian Bale once again delivers a very convincing performance as Ken Miles. Matt Damon is on good form, Caitriona Balfe is given little to do but play the supportive wife. 

Le Mans ‘66 is a triumph of action over script. If the screenplay had matched the action, the film would have been a tour de force.

Le Mans ’66 is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Fair Game

Fair Game may well be one of those incidences where the real life story is actually more interesting than the film depiction. The bustling start fizzles, giving way to more sluggish proceedings for the rest of the film.

Valerie Plame is an undercover CIA agent living with her former ambassador husband Joe Wilson and their young twins. Joe is asked to go to Niger to investigate a possible of a uranium deal with Saddam Hussein. Joe reports back that the sale did not occur, but George W. Bush’s administration uses it as justification to go to war with Iraq. When Joe speaks out publicly, Valerie’s identity is leaked…

The problem with a cinematic adaptation of recent historical events is that most of the audience will remember how the real events played out. This can work as an appeal of the film; people who were intrigued by events may want to see a dramatisation. Nevertheless, when such incidents have been widely reported, others may have little interest in a story they already are very familiar with.

Fair Game combines feature-film drama with real news footage from the time. This interspersing of the fictional and the factual goes some way to grounding the drama in reality. Writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (basing their screenplay on books by Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame) amalgamate the political with the personal. Rather than just a chain of events, Fair Game illuminates the impact of the revelation on Plame, and how this affects the relationship she has with her family. In trying to provide this very personal angle to the story, filmmakers are only partially successful. The strain the events have on Plame and Wilson is clear, however these scenes are not particularly gripping.

Perhaps most interesting in Fair Game is the subplot featuring Plame’s on-going cases. The film insinuates that many are placed in danger by Plame’s sudden removal from duties. As Fair Game concentrates on Plame and Wilson however, these cases are pushed by the wayside. It is a shame, as these strands offered the most intrigue and tension.

Naomi Watts offers a competent performance as Valerie Plame. Sean Penn is also capable, although the role of the impassioned, righteous individual is very typical of his choice of role.

Ultimately it is Doug Liman’s lackadaisical direction that lets Fair Game down. The film should have offered more tension and more momentum. In this case, the interesting story has not translated into an interesting film.