Star Rating:


Director: Michael Mann

Actors: Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley

Release Date: Tuesday 26th December 2023

Genre(s): Biopic, Drama, History

Running time: 130 minutes

Italy, 1957. Former racer and car manufacturer Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) is in crisis. Reeling from the death of his son a year earlier, bankruptcy threatens the factory he and his wife, Laura (Penelope Cruz) built from nothing ten years earlier. His affair with Lina Lari (Shailene Woodley) and his son by her pulls him in other directions. Ferrari's only hope of securing the future of his company lies in his racing team, led by Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey), winning the treacherous Mille Miglia, a thousand-mile race from Brescia to Rome that will push everyone involved to their limits and beyond...

Michael Mann's career has been made of uncomfortably close examinations of men who excel in a chosen field, or who are guided by an unyielding force - to the detriment of every other aspect in their lives and in their relationships. In 'Heat', Robert DeNiro played a monkish criminal mastermind, while Al Pacino played a relentless cop on the downward slope of his third marriage. In 'The Insider', Russell Crowe's Oscar-winning performance as Jeffrey Weigand had no qualms about underlining the fact that while he was a man of unbelievable integrity and principle, he was also an asshole at times. Trace it all the way back to 'Thief', with the late great James Caan, and you can see that there's a consistent focus on a particular type of character in Mann's work.

To that end, it's clear that Adam Driver fully grasps what's at stake both on screen and off screen for 'Ferrari'. Compared to other roles, Driver almost underplays it bar a couple of misjudged scenes with Penelope Cruz. Driver is at his best when his character is in a huddle with his drivers, carefully reconstructing a race or sweating silently through a race and plotting the next move. If there's passion and fire, it's buried deep in the gut and instead bursts out in Penelope Cruz's performance. Both of them play either side of grief, with Cruz's character wearing black and a mask of exhaustion, while Driver's character has shut himself off entirely and allows nothing to get close to him - just the work and nothing else.

Michael Mann's willingness to throw away the conventional approach to racing and driving sequences is to be applauded. Where James Mangold's 'Ford v Ferrari' had slick, orchestrated beats and thundering engines racing across the screen, Mann's 'Ferrari' slaps the camera right in the cockpit and has Patrick Dempsey - himself an accomplished race car driver - race the car through the Italian countryside. It's raw, unpolished, almost unbearably loud, but your attention is glued to the cinema screen because it feels as though you're in the thing next to them. Except for Tony Scott's 'Days of Thunders', few racing movies have managed to reach that level of intensity. Where 'Ferrari' loses speed, however, is in the dynamics between Driver, Cruz, and Woodley.

Though thematic parallels exist between Ferrari's personal and professional life, how racing is a head-versus-heart game while Ferrari is drawn to both women in different ways, the whole thing resolves itself in pretty bland fashion for it to be the focal point of the movie. It's a little disappointing, as you get the sense that there were more compromises made in 'Ferrari' than in other works by Mann. Indeed, that's always been his guiding principle - to be uncompromising, and it's a quality found in Ferrari - but not in the movie that bears his name.

Still, 'Ferrari' has more than enough style and panache to drive itself, though it sometimes finds itself sidetracked and running out of road.