Steve McQueen: The Man And Le Mans


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Steve McQueen And Le Mans
"The sadness and the courage and the ambition is here"

This isn't about the British director of Hunger and 12 Years A Slave. It's about the highest paid actor in the Sixties who leaped the wire on a motorbike (or rather his stunt rider did) in The Great Escape and played Fire Chief O'Hallorham in The Towering Inferno, which heralded a clutch of disaster movies before anyone had heard of James Cameron.

Le Mans was his project and fast cars his drug of choice. "Racing is life," he said. "The rest is waiting."

Copy picture

What happened to the picture and what happened to him is at the heart of this unexpected documentary.

Films about making films are intriguing to those who have no idea how close they can be to self-destruct. They say it's a collaboration. Between whom? What?

In the case of Le Mans it was McQueen's from the start. He brought in John Sturges who had directed him in The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven but didn't hire his favorite scriptwriter, Alan Trustman, because he wouldn't write about a loser (McQueen insisted that his character does not win the 24 hour race) after which "my phone never rang again".

Directors Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna interview many of the drivers, hired for the film, as well as McQueen's first wife Neile Adams and his 54-year-old son Chad.

Sturges shot hours and days of material, cars racing at 240mph on rain-soaked circuits, crashing and bursting into flames as the budget exploded and Sturges walked out.

They had no script. Money was hemorrhaging. McQueen's marriage cracked in the heat. "His trailer was never empty." Girls, girls, girls. One or two a day on average.

The production company panicked. McQueen lost control of his film. Lee Katzin, an unknown director of TV potboilers, was brought in. Naturally, "Steve disliked him". His passion for speed was dissipated across a wordscape of blasted deadlines.

Why does it matter? Self-indulgence is a well known defect of the artistic mind. "He had no fear," they said of McQueen. Le Mans was going to be his Everest, his greatest achievement, his legacy. The critics disagreed.

The sadness and the courage and the ambition is here. Movies about movies - yes. But this is better. It exposes the vulnerability of power.

"I only read one book in my life," McQueen said.

It was about Alexander the Great.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2015
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The true story of how a cinema legend would risk almost everything in pursuit of his dream.
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Director: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna

Starring: Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, John Sturges, Lee Katzin, Alan Trustman, Jonathan Williams

Year: 2015

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK

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