3.5 out of 5 stars
“All of us are racers. It’s our deadly passion. Our terrible joy.”
Buckle up because Michael Mann (director of Heat, The Insider, Collateral) is back in the drivers seat with his unmistakeable sleekness and precision to paint an impassioned yet painful portrait of the Italian ex-racer and iconic automaker in a phase of his life where he’s lost a great deal and could lose even more. Adapted from Brock Yates’ “Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine”, Mann and screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin hone in on 1957 where Ferrari – his racers and his machines – must win the Mille Miglia race that travels across Italy if his car empire wants to avoid total collapse. It’s do or die.
Though, thankfully, the film is about more than just some race. It’s about a man who has come to a fork in the road and must choose which way to go as the wreckage mounts from his racing obsession, his loveless marriage and complicated partnership with his wife, his love for a new family he’s hidden away, and his lasting legacy. Adam Driver is in complete control in his portrayal of Enzo Ferrari. The physicality he produces is first-rate, but what’s even more impressive is his impeccable ability to be vulnerable, endearing, and exasperating all at once. We could certainly despise Ferrari and for good reason, except Driver is too damn good to make it that easy for us. And Penelope Cruz as Ferrari’s wife, Laura, is a firecracker in the best way imaginable. She takes a fairly fruitless role and douses it in devotion, ferocity, and reason. She gets this biopic’s motor running, and without her – it doesn’t cross the finish line.
In a commendable effort by Mann, the racing sequences are realistic and horrifying while the Ferrari family drama is equally intense. Focusing on this one pivotal year in Ferrari’s life is also a very smart choice. We don’t have to see his entire 90 years of life on screen to recognize who we’re dealing with here. And as previously mentioned, the casting and performances are the adrenaline rush this film feeds off of. But narratively speaking, Mann lets off the gas more than a few times, causing Ferrari to stall when it should be gaining speed. It’s a necessity when going the distance to make this feel like the high-stakes, rousing ride that it ought to be.
There’s certain expectations when Mann is at the helm, and this ultimately feels like they aren’t exactly met. However, the truth is even a good Mann film is practically unachievable for most filmmakers out there working today. Ferrari is a labor of love for him and now gets to finally show it off after a 30-year journey to get it made. It’s a pleasure to see him return to the director’s chair and deliver his best work in nearly two decades. That calls for at least one victory lap.