Ferrari (2023, dir. Michael Mann)

by | Dec 6, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 130 mins

UK Distributor: Sky Cinema

UK Release Date: 26 December 2023

WHO’S IN FERRARI?

Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Sarah Gadon, Gabriel Leone, Jack O’Connell, Patrick Dempsey, Michele Savoia, Erik Haugen, Ben Collins, Andrea Dolente, Giuseppe Bonifati, Daniela Piperno, Tommaso Basili

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Michael Mann (director, producer), Troy Kennedy Martin (writer), Monika Bacardi, John Friedberg, Thomas Hayslip, Andrea Iervolino, John Lesher, Laura Rister, Thorsten Schumacher, Lars Sylvest, P.J. van Sandwijk and Gareth West (producers), Daniel Pemberton (composer), Erik Messerschmidt (cinematographer), Pietro Scalia (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In 1957, struggling car magnate Enzo Ferrari (Driver) makes an ambitious gamble…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON FERRARI?

2023 has seen a seismic shift from superhero blockbusters dominating the box office and overall film conversation, and back to big, ambitious auteur-driven passion projects making bank as well as near-universal acclaim. The financial success of films like Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, not to mention the popularity of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Todd Haynes’ May December, seems to have brought a new wave of appreciation for the classic film auteur, whose name alone can entice audiences and earn their respect.

One such name is Michael Mann, the filmmaker known for hard-hitting crime thrillers like Heat, Manhunter and Collateral, who is now finally getting around to releasing his own years-in-the-making passion project, which is a look at a pivotal moment in time for the revered car magnate Enzo Ferrari. However, while the filmmaker’s dedication and passion are certainly present, Ferrari is ultimately a film that, ironically enough, lacks engine power.

Mann’s film – from a script credited to The Italian Job screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, who passed away in 2009 – is set in 1957, when Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) is facing a number of personal and professional issues. On top of his company being on the verge of bankruptcy, with the prospect of a potential deal with other motoring giants like Ford or Fiat becoming more likely by the minute, he is dealing with the unexpected loss of his son Dino, which has also damaged his relationship with his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz). Elsewhere, he’s also had a secret son with his mistress Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley) but is keen for his grieving wife to not find out. In an effort to solve his company’s problems, Ferrari enters a number of his racers into the upcoming Mille Miglia, where he hopes that a victory will ensure longevity for his business.

It is one of those biopics that wisely avoids telling the entire life story of its central figure – the only time we see Ferrari in his earlier years is in opening black-and-white footage with Adam Driver superimposed into it – and instead limits the drama to one particular event in their life. The problem, though, is that the event in question is never really made out to be as thrilling or even as cinematic as it suggests. Much of the film is focused on Driver’s Ferrari making a number of calculated decisions surrounding his business practises, with surprisingly little tension since Mann never fully establishes the weight of the drama surrounding it. What’s more, the film is so slow-moving – also ironic, for a film literally titled Ferrari – that it rarely comes across as though the viewer is supposed to be fully engrossed in this story, due to its lethargic and rather cold nature.

Perhaps a key factor in the film’s lack of intrigue is the fact that Enzo Ferrari, as written in Martin’s script, is not a particularly engaging character. He is incredibly stoic most of the time, and so closed-off from the world outside of his ego that the rare few moments where he actually does show some emotion feel somewhat out-of-character. This isn’t necessarily the fault of Adam Driver, who does fine here (even with an accent left over from his turn in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci), but there’s only so much that the actor can bring to a part that has been purposefully constructed to be as unemotional and cold-hearted as possible. Driver’s commitment to the isolating role is admirable, though it also means he has little chemistry with other actors, including Shailene Woodley who is largely wasted as Ferrari’s mistress, other drivers played by the likes of Patrick Dempsey and Jack O’Connell who barely leave an impression, and even Penélope Cruz whose Laura Ferrari is by far the most interesting character in the film, as her grief slowly grows into something angrier as she learns more about her husband’s side-family.

The film comes alive most during the racing sequences themselves, which Mann has cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shoot with a sharp precision, along with fast-paced editing and sound design that appropriately zooms along extravagantly. It is in these sequences where you can truly feel Mann’s passion for the subject shining through, as he pays careful attention to how these meticulously designed racing cars swerve, manoeuvre, and even crash – with the aid of some iffy CGI – with absolute grace and dignity. Elsewhere, there are plenty of Mann’s familiar touches to pick up on, from his desire to shoot from tight close-ups of his characters’ faces to some wider, sprawling shots of local environments that are littered with intricate little period-accurate details.

However, Ferrari doesn’t entirely come together because it is ultimately telling a story that has little emotional weight or intrigue to it. It isn’t just that the outcomes of these events are more than public knowledge at this point, but that there is a limited range that Mann seems to want the viewer to feel whilst watching it, since there are precious few things to become interested in, whether it’s character relationships or the stakes that are at play, other than the racing scenes themselves. It can feel rather hollow and even dull as a result, with not even the efforts of the cast doing much to enliven a narrative that elicits more yawns than thrills, and which surprisingly does little to truly dig underneath the skin of its titular figure.

At the risk of sounding tacky by ending this review on a car pun, Ferrari is ultimately an ambitious model without much drive.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Ferrari lacks the drive to fully impress as a complex biopic, for its unengaging narrative and ill-defined portrayals leave it feeling rather hollow and surprisingly dull, outside of racing scenes that truly show director Michael Mann’s passion for the subject.

Two out of five stars

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