Ferrari (USA/UK/Italy, 2023)December 23, 2023
With Ferrari, Michael Mann falls afoul of one of the pitfalls of the bio-pic: by focusing too tightly on one brief period in the main character’s life, he creates an “is that all there is?” feeling. Although the real Enzo Ferrari was a larger-than-life individual, the movie, which hones in on events from 1957, provides only the briefest of glimpses into the life of one the 20th century’s icons, relying on dialogue to fill in some of the blanks. Although this approach is arguably preferable to an alternative – attempting to cram 50+ years into two hours – it results in viewers never really understanding Ferrari as a man. Despite a riveting portrayal by Adam Driver, he remains an inscrutable figure even after spending 130 minutes with him.
Ferrari drops us into Enzo’s life in early 1957, follows him through several months until just after the final Mille Miglia race (May 11-12), then exits with many plot threads left unresolved. It is therefore more of a snapshot than a full-fledged biography. The movie explores the business difficulties experienced by Ferrari (the company), which is drowning in red ink. Enzo, still emotionally rent by the death of his son, Dino (who died in June 1956), is involved in an increasingly difficult marriage with his wife of 34 years, Laura (Penelope Cruz), and is facing demands from his long-time mistress, Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), regarding his illegitimate son, Piero. While attempting to balance family issues, Enzo hires a new “hot shot” driver, Alfonso De Portago (Gabriel Leone), and enters five cars into the 1000-mile cross-Italy Mille Miglia where a win would increase the company’s prestige sufficiently to allow Enzo to enter into a favorable partnership with a larger car manufacturer.
Mann’s typical high-energy approach imbues Ferrari with intensity. The racing sequences generate tension and excitement (especially the Mille Miglia). The film is less certain when focused on more intimate interactions, such as Enzo’s dialogues with his wife and mistress. Mann’s zenith as a filmmaker was in the 1990s (when he made, in succession, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, and The Insider). Since then, his films have been largely hit-and-miss affairs and he hasn’t made anything for eight years (2015’s Blackhat). Ferrari seems an odd choice for his return to the spotlight but, despite occasional moments of cinematic flair, one would never associate this with the man who spearheaded Miami Vice.
Ferrari is anchored by the strength of Driver’s performance. Partially obscured underneath effective aging makeup, he could easily be mistaken for Michael Imperioli. Driver’s portrayal presents Ferrari as a tragic figure trapped between a loveless marriage with a mentally unstable wife and an affair with the woman and child he wishes he could acknowledge. He is hyper-focused on business but not so consumed that he ignores the gravesite of his recently-deceased adult son. To the extent that we come to understand Ferrari, it’s more due to Driver’s performance than anything in the screenplay. He is ably supported by a vibrant Penelope Cruz, who enlivens the production whenever she’s on screen. The scene in which her character confronts Enzo with the truth behind her “betrayal” is riveting.
Ferrari may prove a difficult sale for distributors NEON and STX Entertainment. Despite Mann’s involvement, it doesn’t have the cache to be a prestige film and movies of this nature are typically finding greater interest on streaming sites than in theaters. Although Driver’s performance may earn some deserved Oscar buzz, that likely won’t be enough to push the needle and there probably aren’t enough sports car enthusiasts to juice the box office. As a well-acted standard-order bio-pic, Ferrari delivers but as something more, it falls short.
Ferrari (USA/UK/Italy, 2023)
Cast: Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz, Gabriel Leone, Jack O’Connell, Sarah Gadon
Screenplay: Troy Kennedy Martin, based on the book “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races” by Brock Yates
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
Music: Daniel Pemberton
U.S. Distributor: NEON