Michael Mann (HEAT, THE INSIDER) returns to our screens with an execrable biopic of the iconic Enzo Ferrari. It is a film that pays no respect to history, cultural specificity or the ethics of what one chooses to show on-screen of real-life horrific crashes.
In Mann's version of Ferrari's story, as written by Troy Kennedy Martin (THE ITALIAN JOB!) we focus on the year 1957. Mann and Kennedy choose to make this a make or break year for the company, whose road car sales are insufficient to subsidise the racing. The notoriously paranoid, selfish, dictatorial Enzo Ferrari needs to bring in outside financing and give up control in order to compete with the advances being made in England and Germany. Films need stakes, so Mann/Martin argue that Ferrari must win the Mille Miglia road-race to attract investors. Yeah I guess.... But Ferrari was constantly in trouble and flirting with investors.
Similarly, while Enzo may have transferred some assets to his wife's name for tax and political reasons, I cannot imagine he was walking around like a proto-feminist claiming they built the company together, and the book does NOT suggest that she was the business strategist behind the throne. This all sounds like modern retconning to give Penelope Cruz something to do other than scream hysterically. Enzo WAS in fact a notorious womaniser and misogynist. The film only hints at how horrific he was.
The truth of the film lies in how devastated both parents were at the death of Ferrari's only legitimate son Dino, and how Enzo kept the existence of his illegitimate son secret from his wife for many years. It is not known how Laura finally learned about Enzo's mistress Lina Lardi, or of the existence of Piero, but it is true that Piero was only legitimised after Laura died. This was not, as the film implies, because of some cash-for-bungs bribe that Laura paid Enzo, but because of the constraints of the Italian legal system.
Now to move from history to drama. Is the film emotionally involving? No. Because the acting is terrible. Adam Driver is miscast as Ferrari. He is way too young. The Commendatore was 59 in 1957. Driver is not yet 40. He looks not yet 40 with a fake belly and a bad hair dye job. He looks nothing like Enzo - fine - Enzo has a very specific face. But he doesn't move or walk or talk like a c60 year old provincial Italian. Would it have killed them to either a) cast an Italian or b) someone who could do a passable Italian accent?
But this problem of bad acting is way worse when we consider Shailene Woodley's attempt at Lina Lardi. Her accent is so appalling it isn't even Italian-adjacent. I was reminded of Jodie Comer's note perfect accent-work in THE BIKERIDERS and left with the cruel realisation that Woodley is simply a YA film actress over-promoted and best-forgotten.
Finally, we have Penelope Cruz - the only decent performance in the film but one that is for sure Spanish not Italian, and so at odds with the real woman as to be laughable. It's as if there is nothing of merit or interest in Laura's betrayal and pain unless she's a porto-modern boss bitch.
All of this I could have forgiven had the racing been good. And to be fair, most of the footage of the testing at Monza, and the road racing in the Mille Miglia is really well done with great recreations of the historic vehicles rebuilt with the help of the Ferrari factory. Kudos to Mann and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (MANK) for that. My only issue here is the very distinct choice Michael Mann has made to show very graphic crash footage, not just of Castelotti but also of Guidizzolo. As one of the few audience members who knew exactly what was coming, I was in fear once I saw the Monza crash. It's strange to say but in the history of motorsport films we have rarely if ever seen a frame by frame replay of an horrific crash, especially one involving civilians. Think of FORD VS FERRARI where Christian Bale simply disappears over a hill. Or even the way in which Asif Kapadia handles the crash in SENNA. But Mann shows no such finesse here. He does not leave anything to our imaginations. I found it pretty exploitative. I might have forgiven the choice, or understood it better, in a better film. But in such a trashy, melodramatic, soapy film, it felt cheap, and frankly disgusting.
FERRARI has a running time of 130 minutes. It played Venice and the BFI London Film Festival 2023. It will be released on December 25th in the USA and December 26th in the UK.