Directed by: Michael Mann
Premise: Based on true events. Set in 1957, Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) attempts to pull his car company out of a crisis with a mix of business maneuvers and recruiting drivers to compete in the Mille Miglia, a 1000 mile race across Italy.
What Works: Ferrari is less a story than it is a character study. The film explores the life of Enzo Ferrari in a very specific period of time. He faces dueling crises in his marriage and his business and Ferrari pushes everyone to extremes. The racing sequences have tremendous kineticism and the film has a visceral sense of danger. The race cars have no top and are very small; we get the sense of just how exposed the drivers are to the elements. With that comes a sense of the fragility of life. Many of the people around Ferrari die or are in danger. In one of the early scenes, Ferrari’s wife Laura (Penélope Cruz) fires a handgun in his general direction out of frustration and jealousy and the couple has lost their son. The mortal danger faced by these people and by the Ferrari car company give the picture a sense of stakes. Enzo Ferrari is depicted as a man operating on the edge of art and sports and engineering and his motivation to win and callous disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others defines his character. Adam Driver impresses in the lead role. Driver is playing considerably older than he is and the illusion is convincing.
What Doesn’t: The filmmakers take a novel approach that doesn’t abide the usual expectations of storytelling but the construction of the narrative flattens the drama. Stories are typically about characters with a desire and the pursuit of that drama leads them to a crisis point. Ferrari does some of that but there is very little sense of escalation. The Ferrari company’s business woes remain abstract and the marital problems aren’t really going anywhere. Aside from the racing sequences, there is little sense of tension throughout Ferrari and the subplots feel disconnected from one another. The climactic race culminates in a crisis point but very little comes of it. In a way it’s subversive to end the film here, suggesting that Enzo Ferrari’s relentless pursuit of greatness has wrought destruction, but there’s very little pay off to any of it. The film doesn’t really arrive at a logical end point. It just stops and the callousness of its title character comes across less like incisive character study and more like tone deaf storytelling.
Bottom Line: Ferrari has many elements that are impressive especially its technical qualities and the willingness to avoid the triumphalism that usually comes with the great man approach to historical storytelling. The movie is emotionally cold and that’s part of the point but the storytelling is a bit uneven and ineffectual.
Episode: #980 (January 14, 2024)