Ford v. Ferrari director James Mangold may not want to admit this but his film, which roars into highly pleasurable third-act overdrive during its depiction of the 1966 Le Mans race, owes a huge nostalgic debt to Steve McQueen‘s Le Mans (’71).
Shot in the summer and early fall of ’70, Le Mans was an all-around calamity — box-office failure, critically drubbed (the atmosphere and versimilitude are top-notch but it’s a frustrating film in other respects) and a kind of spiritual end-of-the-road experience for McQueen himself.
Nonetheless the annual Le Mans races during that era (mid ’60s to early ’70s) are owned and imprinted by the McQueen legend, and if I’d been in Mangold’s shoes I would have inserted a very quick, very fleeting glimpse of McQueen’s Michael Delaney character…maybe driving, maybe hanging around, maybe watching from the stands. Just a little tap-on-the-shoulder acknowledgment.
Christian Bale‘s Ken Miles, the late British race-car driver, is not doing anything especially new or head-turning here. He’s playing yet another variation of the same asocial skeezy guy that he played in The Fighter and The Big Short. Bale is constitutionally incapable of playing smooth, measured, steady-as-they-go guys who don’t glare or twitch or scrunch their face up or bulge their neck veins…okay, maybe this isn’t fair as Bale does turn it down here and there in Mangold’s film. But Bale will always exude a kind of curious, facial-flicky weirdness, and I’m saying this as a hyuuuge admirer of his Dick Cheney.