Review: Ferrari

Director Michael Mann can be hit or miss, but Ferrari is definitely a hit.

Enzo Ferrari, owner of the most prestigious brand of race cars in Italy after the end of the war, is faced with bankruptcy if he cannot get more interest in his cars. Compounding this, his business partner and estranged wife, and his lover and the son he had with her…

Michael Mann is a well-regarded director for such films as Heat and Collateral, but is also infamous for directing Black Hat and Miami Vice. For a long time he was considered the best director for gun-related action sequences with a heavy emphasis on realism, and prioritized making thriller movies. Ferrari is, in some ways, unique.
A biopic slice of life of Enzo Ferrari, played by Adam Driver, an adaptation of the book “Ferrari: The Man and the Machine”. What’s more, it is a very solid movie.

The movie starts, a little hokey, with archive footage of racing from the 1930s, only with Driver’s head transposed over it. Showing Enzo’s roots as a racer before he became one of the most iconic men in motorsport.
What follows is a blow-for-blow account of his family struggles and his business struggles. With Penelope Cruz as Laura Ferrari, and Shailene Woodley as Lina Lardi, it is a compelling story about a man dedicated so far into his career and his craft, that everything else becomes secondary.

But, not secondary in an unfeeling way. In fact, we see a man strongly dedicated to his career but also seemingly powerless to control his feelings… preferring to bottle them so he can focus.

Large portions of the film’s opening acts are Ferrari going through the motions of getting his team up and running for the big race: the Mille Miglia, a one thousand mile race across Italy. Win this, his financiers say, and he will secure his company’s future. But like all people of influence and power throughout history, wreckage and misfortune are left in their wake, and often return to undo what they are hoping to achieve.

Both are red, but they aren’t both Ferraris.

Currently, there’s a bit of reluctance to watch English actors playing characters (and moreover real people) of different ethnicity. Surely we are at a point were this is not necessary to produce a movie. Of course, it isn’t as bad as it used to be, but whenever we have scenes (for example) entirely occupied with Italians, but they are all speaking English… it is a little distracting. It is made worse when the actors cannot deliver the role convincingly either.
Luckily, Ferrari skims over this hurdle, with Driver and Cruz and others delivering powerful and convincing enough performances that, after a while, you are sold to them. It also helps greatly that the film has a lot of levity in its script; it has a wicked sense of humour that emboldens the characters and elevates the film from being a boring slog.

The racing action is solid and well filmed. There is a moment earlier on that suitably shows how incredibly dangerous racing was at this time. It was basically a man sitting in a chair, stuck on a rocket, supported on caster wheels. It was dreadfully dangerous, perhaps even mindlessly so, for achieving seemingly an inane result: a faster engine. The film does deliver on this premise; with everyone involved aware of how a driver may not return from a race…

While they do showcase the cars well, it did feel like the film could have suggested more about how fragile they were while racing. The beginning of the Mille Miglia race was surprisingly casual. Beautiful landscapes on display, for sure, but for a time it felt as though the cars would just gently drive around without much interaction from each other. A bit more of the competition between Ferrari and Maserati would have been a benefit to the film, as the Maserati owner only really became an on-screen antagonist when the race actually began.

Overall it is a very solid movie with some excellent performances from Cruz and Driver. You get a real sense of the personalities and how they think, how they express themselves both in private and with others.

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