Legendary car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) in his younger days, won the 24 hour Le Mans race before retiring for health reasons. He then started constructing sports cars for rich clients, selling the same car three times before the next could actually afford to be built.
Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) berates his “Ford” workforce and executives for lacklustre vehicles and falling sales, can nobody make “Ford” sexy again?
A suggestion is made to challenge “Ferrari’s” dominance at Le Mans. This is rapidly followed by a humiliating takeover business defeat, topped off with personal slights from Enzo Ferrari, which encourages Ford to take up the challenge.
Enter Shelby and Miles who maintain a love hate bromance, one minute fighting in the street, the next acting like brothers from another mother.
The story kicks up a gear when the GT40 enters the picture, as the car is gradually improved under the direction of Miles, who needs no computers to make the car go faster.
Meanwhile Shelby fights off Ford bureaucracy in the form of corporate back stabber and egotistical pencil pusher, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Whether a true to life representation, he makes for a great pantomime villain, slightly mollified by future industry leader Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal)
The corporate fights are all held in “Madmen” type 60’s settings, populated exclusively by men in matching suits, puffing away at cigarettes.
What makes the film are the car racing scenes, realistically created through live action augmented by seamless CGI, generating real excitement and danger. Coupled with Bale’s usual total character immersion, this makes for riveting driving sequences.
Whilst we see the impact on Miles and his family life, Shelby is shown as a cipher. Presumably shoehorning his real life seven marriages into the lengthy running time would only distract from the story. Damon portrays him as a “good ole Southern boy”, not averse to cutting a few corners both on and off the track.
Both Damon and Bale look every inch the A-List film stars. Bale as usual managing to make every smirk and look count, on many occasions with no dialogue, impressive screen acting work.
The film is somewhat hampered by a “on the rails” linear story-line with a largely known end point but any racing film depicting real events, is more about the journey rather than the result.
Despite the best supporting efforts of Balfe, the only female character is forced take a back seat. However, with expensive antique motors and cinematic sunsets on show, this plays like a boys own dream seen through the eyes of Mile’s young son Peter.
With startlingly realistic race scenes, quality acting and chemistry between the leads, this makes for a compelling watch.