Ferrari (2023)

Souped-up ‘Ferrari’ remains stuck in first gear

Director Michael Mann’s biopic, “Ferrari,” is much like the Dancing Horse’s recent endeavors in Formula 1: looks gorgeous, exhibits loads of potential but rarely capitalizes when it counts most. Blunders abound and fans of both the brand and its founder, Enzo Ferrari, can’t help wondering what the heck is going on behind the Rosso Corsa facade. I found myself asking the same about Mann’s haphazard attempt at condensing an Italian hero’s life into a tumultuous three-month period in 1957 when Il Commendatore faced financial and domestic ruin.

My main complaint is that much of what transpires in “Ferrari” is like the F1 team: Out of whack. True, almost everything in Troy Kennedy Martin’s adaptation of Brock Yates’ “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine” is accurate. It’s just that the events depicted unfolded over a dozen years, not 90 days. But why let facts get in the way?

That seems to have been the approach in seeking to cram four major events in Enzo’s 90-year life into 130 minutes: the death of his son, Dino; the pursuit of a merger with Fiat; an obsession with regaining competitive dominance over rival Maserati; and bed-hopping between his wife, Laura, and mistress, Lina Lardi. It’s not drama; it’s piling on. And none of those events are allotted the depth required to resonate. The only one that comes close is Enzo’s insatiable need to win every race and own every record, even if it contributes to a mounting death toll for his elite drivers.

As a racer for Alfa Romeo in the years before World War II, Enzo gained firsthand knowledge of what it takes to win. And that philosophy of accepting death as an occupational hazard is something he instills in his stable of jockeys during regular roundtables back at the factory in Maranello. And during the spring and early summer of 1957, three of them – Alfonso de Portago, Edmund Nelson and Eugenio Castellotti – took his advice a little too literally.

How they died is a defining element of “Ferrari,” but their pileups pale to the mishaps unfolding in his feeble bids to placate his wife and a mistress who doubles as the mother of his only surviving son, Piero. This segment of “Ferrari” is little more than a sudsy soap, with Laura (Penelope Cruz) throwing passionate temper tantrums over being the woman scorned and Lina (Shailene Woodley) pressuring Enzo (Adam Driver) into allowing Piero (Guiseppe Festinese) to be confirmed a Ferrari instead of the less-prestigious Lardi.

Laura’s stress is intensified by jealousy over Enzo having a “bastard” child with Lina in the wake of her “legit” son, 24-year-old Dino’s death by muscular dystrophy in 1955. We never meet Dino, but his spirit imbues every scene, as Enzo dedicates his life to honoring his firstborn, whose tomb he visits religiously. He even fantasizes about Dino and Piero bonding and becoming close pals. But God had other plans.

Mann draws upon Enzo’s deep faith as a means of humanizing a man who often comes across as cold and unfeeling. And Driver embraces this aspect of the powerful mogul’s determination to conceal his soul out of fear of being less intimidating. And feared Enzo is. Some might describe him as godlike, given the praise the hometown priest in Modena heaps upon him during his sermons. But why is this? Mann simply expects us to accept it as preordained.

You could say it’s Mann taking liberty in a film with a propensity to stretch facts to fit the means, most notably the false implication that Enzo’s company was bordering on bankruptcy in the spring of 1957 due to his emphasis on the racing side of Ferrari more than its production of hand-built sports cars for the idle rich. The mom-and-pop enterprise Enzo and Laura founded in 1947 indeed sought a merger with Ford in the early ’60s (as depicted in the excellent flick “Ford vs. Ferrari”), but the implied 50-50 deal with Fiat did not happen until 1969.

No matter when it occurred, it adds nothing to the film other than to showcase Enzo’s shrewdness as a businessman. What IS fascinating is Enzo’s obsession with conquering Maserati in the infamous 1,000-mile Mille Miglia, the annual race conducted on public roads at speeds up to 185 kph with no protection for spectators. The cars were driven by Enzo’s best: Spaniard de Portago (Gabriel Leone), Brit Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell) and Italian hero Piero Taruffi (a white-haired Patrick Dempsey). The outcome will shock you, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the resulting carnage.

Despite fudging the timeline and Mann’s now tired fascination with exploring flawed, detached men, “Ferrari” works as best as can be expected. Yes, I could have done without the dialogue uttered by English-speaking actors affecting almost cartoonish Italian accents, a la Driver’s “House of Gucci.” But the vintage machines on display are pure car porn for auto buffs, as is the name-dropping of legends like Stirling Moss and Jean Bahra. Add that to fine performances by Driver and Cruz, and you have a film that’s built to win. Will it land a spot on the podium in 2024’s most heated race – the Oscars? Doubtful, but like Ferrari’s beleaguered F1 team, it sure looks good, even if it struggles to achieve the desired results

Movie review


Rated: For sexual content, language, graphic images and some violent content

Cast: Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey, Gabriel Leone and Jack O’Connell

Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Troy Kennedy Martin, based on the biography “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine” by Brock Yates

Runtime: 130 minutes

Grade: B-

Leave a Reply