The Malta Independent 27 May 2024, Monday
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Auto pioneer Enzo Ferrari gets a solid biopic but it doesn't make the heart race

Associated Press Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 09:28 Last update: about 5 months ago

Napoleon Bonaparte. Leonard Bernstein. Willy Wonka. Aquaman — there are a ton of Guy Movie Heroes out there as 2023 ends. And yet up zooms another — in "Ferrari."

Director Michael Mann has put his stylish spotlight on yet one more stoic, brilliant and broken uber-masculine dudes, Enzo Ferrari. The movie is set during a turbulent few months in 1957 when the Italian automaker's private and professional lives threatened to careen out of control.


It's a solid vehicle but it will leave you, well, unmoved.

"Ferrari" has excellent work by Adam Driver as Ferrari, aged up two decades with grey at his temple, sunglasses clamped to his head at all times and a frosty demeanor.

When we meet him, Ferrari is at a crossroads. He needs to ramp up production and sell hundreds of cars a year or risk bankrupting the company that he and his wife, Laura, have built from the ashes of world war.

Enzo and Laura are still recovering from losing a son to muscular dystrophy but she doesn't know that Mr. Ferrari has another family — a girlfriend (Shailene Woodley, great but wrong here) who has given birth to a secret son.

Laura is played by Penélope Cruz, whose grief is profound, her eyes heavy and her gait plodding, possibly overacting. Laura knows her husband is a cad but the rule is he must be home before the maid arrives with the morning coffee. It's a signal that the surfaces of things matter.

The private and public lives of Ferrari will ultimately come to a head with the results of the treacherous 1,000-mile race across Italy, the Mille Miglia. If Ferrari has a good showing — and embarrasses competitor Maserati — he can fill orders and everything is buono. If not, disastro.

Most of Mann's toolkit is here — slick and moody camerawork, a poetic surrounding and heightened use of music, even the car porn of "Miami Vice." But "Ferrari" — despite Mann's leaning on Italian opera — fails to ignite. One scene split between high Mass while simultaneously drivers zip through a track doesn't work no matter how high the volume is pushed.

Part of the problem is Troy Kennedy Martin's script, which tries to have it both ways, a domestic drama and also some kinetic, superb race scenes, with thick metal gears scraping, engines roaring and brave goggle-wearing drivers risking their necks at 130 mph.

Ferrari himself is on the sidelines, barking orders, and so he's lost in the second half, while we're never really invested in the five drivers he has sent out to represent the brand. Distance is a strange part of the movie and viewers will fight to find a heart in the cool elegance.

Driver does the best an actor can to reveal the warmth inside Ferrari, who seems most vulnerable alone in the crypt of his son. Outside, he screams things like "I must have total control" and demands his drivers have "deadly passion."

The movie tends to lose itself — maybe fetishize — Italian artistry: tailored shirts, fountain pens, curving exhaust manifolds, cappuccino cups and the gloriousness of Italy's cobble-street cities.

Over it all hangs loss — sons, brothers and drivers die — so that fresh deaths are almost run-of-the-mill. Ferrari doesn't miss a beat when he loses a key employee; he hires another even before the body is cold. "We all know that death is nearby," he says.

But the viewer is not so callous and a horrific event during the big race unmoors the movie. The end drifts off unresolved and tragically rerouted, it's engine broken. Failure has been snatched from the jaws of victory.

The fact that we know the future of Ferrari — it will produce graceful, expensive roadsters lusted after and insulted in equal turns — takes away some of the jeopardy. It's also hard to root for a rich CEO with a mistress. If anything, this is a movie that will make you hit the gas a little harder coming home.

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