My favorite Michael Mann Mode (MMM) is crime movie mode. Or guy chasing another guy mode. Moody guy looking out a window talking to another guy across the city mode. The mode you can feel coming in the air tonight, oh lord.

FERRARI is obviously not that mode. It’s biopic mode, I’ve got a 496-page biography to recommend to you mode, I’ve been obsessed with this guy for years and hopefully I can articulate some of the reasons why plus some side info about car engines and racing teams mode, Ferrari started manufacturing in 1947 and the events depicted here take place in 1957 but we’ll have some text at the end explaining what happened to everybody later mode. Not my favorite MMM, no, but the nice thing about his modes is that he’s good at all of them.

Adam Driver (THE DEAD DON’T DIE) stars as Enzo Ferrari, former Alfa Romeo racer, current maker of top of the line racing cars (or go fast cars). He funded his small, very independent company with his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz, THE COUNSELOR), who still controls the money. She puts up with his “whoring” as she calls it but does not know he has a young son named Piero (Giuseppe Festinese) with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley, THE DESCENDANTS), who he fell in love with during the war and still spends much of his time with. They’ve been wanting to tell her, but Enzo and Laura’s son had been sick and then he died a year ago so it’s always a bad time.

Also Enzo’s running out of money. He always resists doing the smart business stuff, because he doesn’t give a fuck. He sells cars to have a racing team, and shit talks Jaguar for having a racing team to sell cars. He’s in the midst of fiercely protecting a speed record from Maserati when his best driver (played by British racing driver Marino Franchitti) hits a curb, is hurled 100 yards and dies. Enzo insists it wasn’t his fault – says the guy was distracted by pressure from his mother to marry right. A cold thing to say.

These things all come together to form the main subject of the movie. He’s thinking of finally giving in and letting Ford or some other company co-finance Ferrari to become a much bigger company. He would lose control but be able to survive. But to make the deal go through he’ll have to rebuild his racing team and have a good showing at the thousand mile open road race called the Mille Miglia. Also he’ll have to convince Laura to let him have control of her stock in the company. But also Lina wants him to tell her about Piero now so he can use the name Ferrari when he gets confirmed. It seems like the right thing to do, but it could fuck everything up.

I am not a car guy at all. I take the light rail to work. I was once a little boy, so obviously I know that Ferraris and Lamborghinis are the cool cars, as depicted in posters of the 1980s. Also I know they are both Italian and expensive. And I know if you’re in a chase against tanks or whatever and you get launched in the air you have to land on a car to break your fall. Duh. Otherwise this movie is the sum of what I know about cars, so it’s funny that it’s not that much about them. I wonder if anybody was mad it doesn’t have one of those shots that goes inside the engine. He did inside the computer shots in BLACKHAT.

But there’s a scene where he sits with Piero drawing an engine and talking with him about how it works. And he tells him, “In all life, when a thing works better, usually it is more beautiful to the eye.” A philosophy I like and believe both Ferrari and Mann subscribing to. And as the movie goes on it does start to feel more like a traditional racing movie, at least enough so that Wikipedia classifies it as a “biographical sports drama film.” He hires a hot new prospect, Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone), so famous Piero keeps bugging him to get an autograph. Portago is even dating a movie star, Linda Christian (Sarah Gadon, ENEMY), so when Enzo hires him one of the first things he says is, “Actresses – I have admiration, but keep them away from the paddock. They distract photographers. I want their attention on my cars. You understand?”

You can sense Enzo stressing that she’ll also “distract” his driver and get him killed, even as he’s learning that maybe it’s okay to have them photographing the movie star, as long as she’s standing in front of his car and not blocking the logo.

I knew there was supposed to be something depressing about this story, but I didn’t know what, so everything seemed like ominous foreshadowing. For example, one of the very first scenes has Laura firing a gun into the wall during an argument with Enzo. It’s very effective because the sound effect is so loud, you really feel like a gun was fired in a small room, and then the maids and Enzo’s hilariously grumpy mom (Daniela Piperno, DIABOLIK) are shuffling around it’s like it’s concerning but not very surprising, and you know this house is gonna always be in chaos. Enzo takes the gun from Laura, he visits his dead son’s grave and tells him that “Your mother missed on purpose. One day she won’t. Then I’ll be in here with you.” Later she asks for the gun back, keeping it on our minds. And then there’s this ticking time bomb of her finding out about his other family, a thing you could imagine setting her off. But (historical spoiler) that’s not the tragedy.

I also had a pretty good hunch one of the drivers was gonna get it, and one in particular seems most likely. There are signs that we should worry about Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell, 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE) and Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey, MOBSTERS, also an actual racer) as well as Portago. So as part of us is programmed to root for the big win, another part of us is dreading the grim reaper. I’ve got a pretty healthy list of favorite choices in this movie but maybe at the top is Mann showing the victory celebration immediately after a horrific accident, word of which hasn’t reached the finish line yet. What would be the climax and the payoff in any other racing movie is used only as an ironic backdrop as we think about what’s actually important.

Eight Ferrari drivers were killed in races between 1955 and 1971, including two who are characters in this movie but don’t die during it. In FERRARI, Enzo both demands the highest level of dedication and excellence from his team, and realizes fully that racing is a ridiculously dangerous sport for obsessives only – “a terrible joy, a deadly passion.” As much as he denies it, the deaths of his drivers weigh on him, and he tells his dead son that he sees their faces every day along with the family members he’s lost. Yet he pushes them to keep doing it, rationalizing that “no one is forcing you to take that seat.” And then he finds himself in positions like showing up to a little village where mourners are still crying next to dead loved ones and he’s there to claim his wrecked vehicle.

Sometimes we get stuck on this idea that movie characters should be “relatable,” which certainly has its advantages, but sometimes it’s way better to see a little bit of humanity in a person you cannot fucking understand at all. Aside from some of his flaws, and fantasizing about having a fierce dedication to whatever it is we care about, most of us won’t recognize ourselves in this incredibly driven rich guy weirdo who is a recluse but also a celebrity, who has two separate families (in nice houses), and who openly talks with family members about having “an heir.” Not a kitchen table issue in my opinion. He’s a guy who lacks many social skills and outward signs of emotions, but is good at finding flowers (he always seems to be bringing people flowers) and something about him inspires fierce loyalty in people. When you see him on screen it makes sense.

He’s made all the stranger by being portrayed by Driver, a very good actor with an unusual voice and appearance, speaking in odd, accented English representing Italian, while wearing makeup and padding to play about 20 years older than his actual age. A few times in the movie all that artifice, stacked on top of the Mann-ian speeches like the one where he yells about how he tried everything to save his son and “I know more about nephritis and dystrophy than cars,” got to be too much for me, I and I wished they could’ve just had an actual older guy, maybe an actual Italian, playing him. But I also realize that the movie would never be financed without someone like him, that it fits in the tradition of previous unlikely castings in THE INSIDER and ALI, and most importantly that this is a good performance from Driver that’s more fun and more interesting than that other unnamed guy might’ve done. (But if you disagree, there’s already a 2003 biography mini-series of the same title, starring Italian actor Sergio Castellitto, and Remo Girone played him in FORD V FERRARI, a movie almost directed by Mann.)

Even with an acceptable marquee name starring, it took Mann forever to get this off the ground. The screenplay is credited to Troy Kennedy Martin (THE ITALIAN JOB [the original one!], KELLY’S HEROES, RED HEAT), who died in 2009. Which was about a decade after Mann started working on it! For a while it was gonna star Christian Bale, then Hugh Jackman. Noomi Rapace was gonna be Laura at one point. These are all really good actors, but I think they ended up with the best combination.

As much as this is Driver’s showcase, the actual MVP is Cruz, a fucking scorcher of a performance playing a great character, angry and a pain in his ass and usually definitely right but sometimes so cold-hearted. In particular she hits a three-pointer at the buzzer (or car race equivalent) in the big scene that’s as much of a rollercoaster and gut punch as any racing climax could’ve been. Actually, if I may switch my sports metaphor I think it was some kind of incredible pass to Driver, because his response is the culmination of the whole movie.

Damn. Honestly, only after seeing it, I’m surprised how much I loved FERRARI. It’s not what I would think I was looking for, what I would think I would find interesting, but it really works on me.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 17th, 2024 at 4:55 pm and is filed under Reviews, Drama. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “Ferrari”

  1. For all the reasons above, I do feel this is less of a great movie and more of an interesting one. Still, the dense tapestry of Ferrari’s personal life contrasted with the race stuff, specifically in the third act – that’s what great movies are made of.

    Also, I guess Michael Mann’s own music choices, since he borrows a track he already used in “The Insider” during a key dramatic moment, and it still works.

    My philistine side is struggling to get past the two big crashes in this movie, one in Act One and the other in Act Three. The first one made me wonder, since I am not a car guy either – did it happen like that? The staging makes it look like an absurd Looney Tunes death, and I had to stop and ask, did I just see this? The cut to Driver’s dispassionate face kind of made it seem like dark comedy.

    That second crash, though, was one of the most savage things I had ever seen in a movie. Obviously it wasn’t a crowded theater, but everyone there heard my loud, stunned, “holy shit”. Mann is all about nuance that sometimes you forget how he can often viciously punctuate his points.

  2. Nice piece, Vern. I am also not a car guy, but I saw FORD VS. FERRARI and you’ve talked me into watching the prequel.

    I am also happy to see Adam Driver finally change his hair for a role.

  3. I’m really not a car guy either, but I wanted to see this. Unfortunately, illness and family commitments saw the trip to see it turn into a trip to see THE HERON AND THE BOY, which was both disappointing in itself and because it wasn’t FERRARI.

    What I will say, not having seen THE 355 either, is that I think Cruz has been on a real roll since PAIN AND GLORY in 2019. OFFICIAL COMPETITION is a brutal, and brutally funny, satire on filmmaking, and PARALLEL MOTHERS is also up there with the best of Almodovar. L’IMMENSITA, where she is again a mother tested to her limit was also great. So if Vern says she’s the MVP in this, I don’t doubt it, and it makes me want to see it more.

  4. Ferrari was my film of 2023. I am also not a car guy but this one really got to me. Its Mann’s version of The Red Shoes with racing rather than ballet but it is about deadly, fleeting beauty that obsesses the crazy and driven.

  5. Just finished watching it and I am speechless. This is probably the best movie about car racing plus the people behind it ever made. Actually a character study of Enzo and his family/families in the decisive year 1957. 👍👏 10/10.

    FORD VS. FERRARI is very good as well, but it is more a cool buddy-movie, like so many others, entertaining, but well.

    That said I am not surprised at the rather low rating of 6.7 on the IMDb. Plus the many rather negative reviews there. I guess the IMDb is more for the proletarian movie watchers, who considers “super hero movies” to be art. 🤫

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>