Review: Ferrari

    Michael Mann can’t seem to stay away from flawed personalities, especially the ones attached to challenging, formidable men. It’s only natural his first film since 2015’s Blackhat is one that unpacks the complicated, fractured aura of Enzo Ferrari, a man who makes it clear from the get-go “He sells cars to race”, and not the other way around. It’s a dream that takes precedence over the lives which will inevitably be lost striving to attain it. The image of Ferrari conjured in Mann’s aptly titled, Ferrari, is that of a cipher who consistently embodies one of his roaring vehicles, struggling to stay the course amid professional and personal responsibilities that will surely send him hurling towards a fiery pile-up. Yet, for as fast as the cars go, Ferrari seldom moves us.

    There’s a distinct pulse, a cinematic high-gear synonymous with Mann’s output that’s sorely lacking here. Instead of a cutthroat character study, we get a hokey, awkwardly staged melodrama that results in more unintended laughs than exalted emotions. It’s a feeling the awkward Italian accents and over-exaggerated dialogue reinforces, undercutting any sense of pathos and palpability Ferrari races to sustain.

    The year is 1957 and Ferrari is not only a legend in Modena, where he lives, but across Italy. It’s a type of prominence that’s easy to embrace but hard to sustain, especially when competitors like Maserati threaten the speed record, he is obsessed with maintaining—Something akin to a death knell for a company already speeding towards bankruptcy. At this stage, Ferrari, the company, is too fixated on sports racing and not the production of commercial vehicles which would keep it in business. Nonetheless, Ferrari wages the future of his company on the “Mille Miglia”, where A victory would ensure his cars as the hottest commodity around.

    Troy Kennedy Martin’s screenplay weaves these conflicts with Ferrari’s troubled love life, centred around two women: his wife Laura (Penelope Cruz) and his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley), with whom he has a secret heir. His volatile marriage with Laura is reeling from the death of their son, and it looms heavy over the everything, including the clandestine villa he shares with Lina and the thundering races that consume the film’s latter half. In marrying the intensity of Ferrari’s racing ambitions with his pressure-cooker of a homelife, Mann and company hope to give audiences plenty to chew on, but the experience repeatedly stalls when it comes to execution. What could have been an intricate, multi-faceted study of legacy and mettle, is rendered obtuse and straightforward.

    Though there is a noticeable commitment to character at every turn, Ferrari’s laboured blend of melodrama quickly runs out of gas, reading as campy when it goes for gravity. The result is a biopic that feels more like a reenactment than a retelling, especially when genuinely great moments are diluted by weakly delivered, eye-rolling lines like “you’re giving me one of the most powerful cars in the world?” In one breath it’s a prestige drama, and in the other it’s a cloying dramedy, putting its weight on exactly the wrong pedal at the wrong time. Ferrari tries mightily to make us care by the time the crashes come, but its not hard to feel ambivalent about the whole ride, mildly invested in a story wholly lacking juice.

    Yet, what saves Ferrari from a being a total car wreck is the dynamic, stunning performance that underpins it. Driver captures an icy, enigmatic persona that overcomes the strained faux-Italian accent shrouding it. Though, at times, he does recall the worst of House of Gucci, he imbues Ferrari with a level of nuance that humanizes who is arguably the most heartless man alive, the type of human being who doesn’t even bat an eye at the death of one of his drivers. He nails Enzo’s direct, matter-of-factness, while hinting at the hidden, burning passion that fuels it.

    While Driver excels at building the wall protecting Enzo’s ego, Cruz’s Laura is equally as fantastic in breaking them down. She’s wonderful at playing a woman who has had enough of her husband’s cold, cruel detachment, going to extreme lengths to make him understand what he has done to their marriage. The two are electric to watch, manifesting as broken pieces of a shattered whole. The same can’t be said for Woodley’s take on Lina. Her accent is wildly inconsistent and distracting, muting the power of key moments, lending the film a stilted quality that can be hard to shake.

    On a technical level, Mann delivers the goods. Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Who builds upon his stellar work in this year’s The Killer) crafts a gorgeously rendered experience. He injects a peering, observational quality to each scene that’s deeply immersive, often cascading around characters in a manner that keeps the film in constant motion. It’s both subtle and grand, befitting the stature of the subject it seeks to capture.

    For much of its runtime, Ferrari feels as if its going to remain in neutral. But its shocking final moments pulse with a killer instinct the rest of the film sorely lacks. Guttural in its brutality and tragic in its magnitude, it’s bound to be a moment that outlives the film itself. Especially since it gives way to a final, moving confrontation that bustles with a quiet, contemplative power. But it’s not enough to save an experience that repeatedly fails to give its driving engine a much needed fire. Ferrari crosses the finish line as the odd duck of Mann’s impressive filmography, an entry that’s just as technically impressive as the rest, but lacking in the thematic, narrative gravitas that makes them so memorable.

    Prabhjot Bains
    Prabhjot Bains
    Prabhjot Bains is a Toronto-based film writer and critic. Bains is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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    Michael Mann can’t seem to stay away from flawed personalities, especially the ones attached to challenging, formidable men. It’s only natural his first film since 2015’s Blackhat is one that unpacks the complicated, fractured aura of Enzo Ferrari, a man who makes it clear...Review: Ferrari