Brent Simon brings us his thoughts on the brand new Michael Mann biopic as he feels the documentary is well crafted but perhaps too tightly focused. Check out the full Ferrari review below.
The name Ferrari conjures, even for automative agnostics, images of sleekness and speed. So it’s a bit of an adjustment for viewers when they settle into Michael Mann’s eponymous new movie, which just enjoyed its world premiere at the 2023 Venice Film Festival.
The sleekness is still there, in the legendary Heat and The Last of the Mohicans director’s expressively rendered frames, achingly precise in their construction. But the movie opens slowly — purposefully juxtaposing silence with some of the noise of gear-shift driving. In fact, it’s a couple minutes before the first line of dialogue.
Much of the rest of Mann’s movie, especially its first act, unfolds as essentially a melodrama, charting the complicated intersection of domestic strife and business pressures facing its subject.
It’s a while, then, before Ferrari confidently establishes its own rhythm, and feels like it locates a groove. Part of this disconnection owes to aforementioned viewer preconceptions and expectations, true. But some elements also point to other factors — issues that, even if they don’t mark Mann’s long-gestating passion project as a failure, at least slow it down and keep it just off the winners’ platform.
Based on Brock Yates’ Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine, the movie is the product of literal decades of research and preparation on the part of Mann. It got closest to production in 2015, with Christian Bale attached, but the actor, coming off of shooting on Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Big Short, dropped out over concerns that he didn’t have enough time before filming to put on the amount of weight he wanted to add.
Adapted for the screen by the late Troy Kennedy Martin, the movie unfolds over the course of three pivotal months in 1957. Enzo (Adam Driver) and his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz), who also serves as their company’s chief financial officer, are still grieving the loss of their young adult son, Alfredo, from muscular dystrophy the previous year.
Unbeknownst to Laura, Enzo has another son, 12-year-old Piero, with his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley), who lives in a country house outside of town. Their son’s approaching confirmation date represents a tough decision regarding his public acknowledgment.
As a company, Ferrari is also facing financial headwinds — the silver bullet solution for which is presented as an attention-grabbing finish at the upcoming Mille Miglia, a grueling 1,600-kilometer-plus race across Italy.
To this end, Ferrari orders an immediate reallocation of resources and shift in priority. Patrick Dempsey, Jack O’Connell and Gabriel Leone, among others, portray drivers who fill out Ferrari’s stable of drivers.
On a technical level, Ferrari delivers — it’s gorgeous to simply look at. Working with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (also responsible for David Fincher’s The Killer, another recent Venice premiere), Mann at times seemingly indulges the lighting schemes of Renaissance paintings, when open skies are offset by soft, welcoming shadows with sharp boundaries that never obscure his subjects.
This is, of course, highly by design. The movie is set largely in Modena, where in real life Ferrari lived and built the factory that crafted his cars. It exudes an authenticity of time and place, poised halfway between rural remove and some of the tonier worlds in which Enzo operates.
Ferrari is also invested in some of the same themes (duty, honor, masculine stubbornness) that have defined a lot of Mann’s work. But it feels a bit like the film leans away from the madness or preternatural drive of its namesake.
For all its accumulated sense of detail, there isn’t — until the introduction of the Mille Miglia, which gives the film some clear stakes — a sharply defined sense of the appetites and ambition that pushed Enzo to such heights.
In many ways, Ferrari suffers when compared to James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, from 2019 (in which Bale ironically starred, opposite Matt Damon, as British race car test driver Ken Miles). The stories the two films tell don’t offer one-to-one comparison, but there is some significant overlap, as Ferrari attempts to grapple with financial pressures by leveraging acquisition interest from the American-based Ford into more favorable domestic investment in his company, while still retaining overall control.
Mangold’s film is probably the more visceral of the two, notwithstanding Mann’s touch with subjective racing scenes, and excellent staging of the Mille Miglia, particularly a brutal crash sequence. And all things considered, Ford v Ferrari is more entertaining, on a surface level. It has more indelibly sketched characters — figures who radiate, in different ways, larger-than-life qualities that make its story seem even more epic.
In this sense, Ferrari perhaps would have actually benefitted from being a somewhat more conventional cradle-to-grave biopic — showing Ferrari at more (and different) high and low points in his life, and actually experiencing the sting of loss rather than merely reflecting upon it. As is, Ferrari feels like it unfolds at an emotional remove.
Also, Driver is a superb actor, but perhaps a little miscast here. Usually quite adept at communicating deep reservoirs of inner life, his efforts seem almost entirely channeled into the surface physicality of Enzo — his accent, his bearing, his mannerisms within his too-big suits and high-waisted pants, and the like. Cruz imbues Laura with a sense volatility that makes her highly watchable.
Woodley, meanwhile, struggles to transcend a fairly flatly rendered character — the “other woman,” allowed one brief monologue to undercut self-pitying.
While the smartly captured contrasts and cross-sectioning of the narrative Mann chooses to focus on eventually offer up enough meat on the bone, story-wise, to pull a viewer into the film, one also never really comes away feeling that they know much more about any of these characters than what is driving them in these very particular moments onscreen.
For a snap of a fast-moving Ferrari, though, maybe that’s ultimately appropriate, who knows.
Ferrari Review by Brent Simon.
Read more reviews from Brent HERE
Ferrari perhaps would have actually benefitted from being a somewhat more conventional cradle-to-grave biopic — showing Ferrari at more (and different) high and low points in his life, and actually experiencing the sting of loss rather than merely reflecting upon it. As is, Ferrari feels like it unfolds at an emotional remove.