Talking Movies

November 15, 2019

Le Mans ’66

Director James Mangold reunites with his 3:10 to Yuma star Christian Bale for a less satisfying movie about driving fast cars.

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the 24 hour endurance race at Le Mans in 1959 only to be invalided out of motor-sports by a dodgy ticker. Instead he tries to run a racing team of his own, dealing with irascible driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) with the help of trusted mechanic Phil (Ray McKinnon). And then Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) comes calling, desperate to make Ford cool again by importing some European glamour to the brand by taking down Ferrari. The ego of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) leads to an attempt to magick into existence a car capable of winning Le Mans. But Ford II’s ego is matched only by his underling Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). He is not as forgiving as Ken’s wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) when Ken Miles bluntly speaks his mind…

Le Mans ’66 starts promisingly with a startling recreation of racing Le Mans at night, mist obscuring a dark country road interspersed with fast cars being handled recklessly. But at 2 hours 34 minutes this is more accurately The Road to Le Mans ’66 as it is a good 1 hour and 42 minutes into the film before Bale sets foot in France. The script by the Brothers Butterworth and Jason Keller is fairly rambling, and leaves a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth after the epic run time. Bale’s performance is a curate’s egg: the showy weight loss, the Brummie accent that frequently hits Liverpool, the nervous tics and arrogant mouthing off like Liam Gallagher crossed with Bale’s meth-head in The Fighter. His quietest moments are most effective, so you wonder why Mangold sanctioned this way of playing Miles.

Damon is on far surer ground as Shelby, a man continually trying to find his footing as the world keeps changing on him. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders devolve into generic Zimmer for the finale at Le Mans, but prior to that provide an interesting score inflected with the jazz of the time; with numerous delicate touches of rich double bass and whispering drums. Mangold’s semi-regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael provides some dizzying shots of high-paced vehicular mayhem, but you yearn for an artsy long-take from a low-mounted camera to really capture the feel of the perfect 3:33 lap so often mentioned. Ultimately this isn’t really Ford v Ferrari, so much as a battle of wills between talented people who are experts in their field and just need money versus people who are complete idiots but for egregious reasons have money.

This is not really a feel-good movie, in fact it’s almost a feel-bad movie, about the struggles of racing guys against middle management, with the villain being the spite of an egotistical empty suit.

3/5

May 7, 2013

Mud

Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returns with a Southern tale that owes much to Mark Twain as two teenage boys help Matthew McConaughey’s titular fugitive.

20514510_jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

The inseparable Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Loftland) are our modern-day Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. They ride motorbikes, pilot motorboats, and enjoy the laidback lifestyle of the Mississippi river. Orphaned Neck lives with his Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon), a womaniser, oyster fisher, and collector of riverbed trash. Ellis endures the disintegrating marriage of his parents Senior (Ray McKinnon) and MaryLee (Sarah Paulson). Then, boating out to an island in the river to see a boat stranded in a tree by a flood, they encounter Mud (Matthew McConaughey); a superstitious fugitive waiting for his true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) to rendezvous with him, and hiding out from the law and Texan cowboys the while. Neck is wary of Mud but Ellis is drawn to his irrepressible romanticism and soon the boys find themselves conspiring with Mud, and inviting danger…

If you’ve read Huckleberry Finn you’ll grin at Mud’s entrance being announced by distinctive footprints because of nails forming a cross in his boot just like Pa Finn. You’ll also enjoy an absurd moment worthy of Twain’s warring clans the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons bringing their guns to church. That blood feud is echoed in the vendetta against Mud by implacable Texans led by the smooth Carver (Paul Sparks) and his gruff father King (Joe Don Baker). Nichols manages to make such touches not seem anachronistic by giving a timeless quality to proceedings. People ring landlines and ask for the person they want to talk to, Galen uses a 19th century diving helmet with a 21st century skin-suit, and the Beach Boys’ ‘Help Me Rhonda’ gets its most prominent use since 1980s show ALF. Nichols pulls this off largely by his insistence on shooting on remote, strikingly beautiful locations in Arkansas, which his regular cinematographer Adam Stone imbues with heavenly sheen.

Nichols’ Take Shelter was one of the finest films of 2011, and Mud shows startling range in being expansive and optimistic where that was intense and foreboding. Tree of Life star Sheridan gives a subtle turn as Ellis, who reacts to his parents’ separation and the loss of his riverside life by bonding with Mud because of his unquenchable belief in everlasting love. Ellis projects Mud’s love for Juniper onto his own putative girlfriend MayPearl (Bonnie Sturdivant) despite the warnings by his mysterious neighbour Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) that Mud is a fool for love, and that Ellis and Neck are making themselves as great fools by running messages for Mud and scrounging materials for his tree-stranded boat. Nichols draws uniformly flawless performances from his perfectly judged ensemble to make this a deeply felt tale of love and wisdom, played against the rolling Mississippi and endless local charms against bad luck, which builds to a climax suitable for a director whose debut was called Shotgun Stories. The ending makes you think of Huck’s closing peroration, but the final image then makes you think Frederick Jackson Turner got it wrong – the frontier spirit is well-nigh indestructible.

Nichols’ third film is his most ambitious and warmest. Rich and absorbing, it is lit by a deep affection for his characters. The best film I’ve seen this year.

5/5

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.