Michael Mann is back with his new film Ferrari after a hiatus of 8 years. Having closely followed his filmography for years, Michael Mann is one of those directors who has constantly innovated himself and pushed the envelopes of traditional story-telling coupled with the use of new movie technologies. He was one of the first to accept that movies will move to being shot in digital format versus on film at a time when Hollywood was at crossroads whether to accept but he accepted it pretty quickly and moved on. So, my expectations for Ferrari was high and I ended up being quite disappointed. On the surface, Ferrari appears to be a well-made, well-acted and with excellent racing sequences. However, throughout the film, I couldn’t help but feel disinterested and dissatisfied. There was a sense of laziness in terms of making some scenes more exciting to watch. This film had all the elements to be a slam dunk and yet at no point did I feel attached to Enzo Ferrari and his struggles. In the end, the only emotional connect I felt was with Penelope Cruz’s portrayal of Laura Ferrari who also seemed to have the best dialogues in the film.
This film centers around the events when Ferrari is going broke in the late 1950’s, and the only path to survival is to sign a deal with either Ford or Fiat. Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) is told he needs to win the 1957 Mille Miglia (a thousand mile race over public roads) to make his case. At the same time he’s being pressured by his estranged wife Laura (Penelope Cruz), who holds half of the stock in the company. The situation isn’t helped when the wife finds out the Enzo has a mistress (Shailene Woodley) and a son who are being supported out of company funds. The race itself features five Ferrari cars, plus some from arch-rival Maserati. This is where things get hard to follow. All the cars are the same shade of red. I realize this was historically accurate but this is one area when I wish historical accuracy had been sacrificed for narrative clarity. Add in the fact that the drivers were difficult to distinguish in identical helmets and goggles, and the race became next to impossible to follow. This is not to say that the racing scenes aren’t spectacular – they are, and there’s a dramatic and visceral crash. Unfortunately, the film just sort of ends there. Enzo reaches a kind of equilibrium in his private life, the company survives but that’s it.
The performances in this film are good but not great as we would expect from a biopic of this nature. Adam Driver as Ferarri delivers a nuanced portrayal but I felt he was playing it safe. There was no dialogue or situation where he could show his range. The character was always behaving in a controlled manner irrespective of the situation, so there was nothing that would wow the audience. Maybe its not him and goes to do more with the script. Penelope Cruz on the other hand was phenomenal as her character was always in a state of grief, anger and fear. The only negative is that she did not have enough screentime. Every scene she is in, the camera does not stop rolling and she is given time to just showcase her range of acting prowess. Shailene Woodley’s Lina Lardi is a little more vague and docile than one would hope for. She is a secret and is kept one for the most part of the film and therefore her performance is not one we would remember after the movie ends. The one issue I had throughout the film is that all these actors spoke English with an Italian accent in some scenes and in other scenes the accent was close to an American accent. It kept going back and forth and was very annoying. The other thing I couldn’t understand is why not get Italian actresses to play the supporting cast as I think it would have made the film sound more Italian. Patrick Dempsey‘s portrayal of Piero Taruffi was perfect for the limited screentime he had.
If you are watching this film for the racing, the film does deliver. There are few races in first and second acts and a long one in the final act. But, we are not really invested in any of the racers as we are not told much of anyone’s backstory, so why should we be? While the film merely glimpses into the personal lives of a few of the drivers, their relationships to races were portrayed similarly to that of soldiers on the eve of war. The potential of imminent death weighed enough to warrant goodbye letters to their loves but not enough to risk losing the race for extended pit stops. Ultimately, the film’s climax doesn’t hit hard enough and we are left pondering and not impressed by anything. The CGI is also not very polished and that can be noticed in some of the fast moving scenes. The whole film has a somber tone to it and it goes hand in hand with the title character Enzo Ferrari and there is lies the problem with the film. How can you make something exciting or exhilarating when the story you are showing is the opposite.
Ferrari feels like a film that could’ve been better. The characters could’ve been better, the story could’ve covered a more interesting part of Enzo Ferrari’s life and the acting could’ve been more. There were far too many static shots for a film about racing. There could have been more years covered in Enzo’s life or shot the races to be more dramatic for the film. This film is a prime example of how a bad script can hinder a good director’s ability to make a great film. I think the subject matter was just not dense enough to warrant a biopic. At the end of the day, the film is an decent depiction of a man who was a great Engineer but a poor businessman.