Michael Mann's latest is a confused but captivating look at an automotive legend.
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Filmmaker Michael Mann has made a career out of grappling with masculinity. His latest “Ferrari” (in theaters on Christmas Day) does nothing to deviate from this trend, but also has nothing terribly cogent to add to the conversation.
It’s the summer of 1957. Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) founded the famed automotive company alongside his wife Laura (a live-wire Penélope Cruz) 10 years prior. Their business and marriage have since hit the skids in the wake of losing their son Alfredo the previous year.
As it turns out Enzo has another son Piero (Giuseppe Festinese) who was the result of a wartime affair he had with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley). Enzo funnels money from the corporation to care for Lina and Piero and even often spends nights with them without Laura knowing. She assumes he’s out just generally whoremongering.
On the brink of bankruptcy, Enzo begins entertaining the idea of partnering with Fiat or Ford. He’ll need Laura’s permission to do so, however, and has concerns over losing creative control.
Enzo wagers his company’s future on winning the Mille Miglia, an insanely dangerous 1,000-mile race across Italy. He hopes to best his closest competitor Maserati (also facing financial ruin) with a race team consisting of Spaniard Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone), Englishman Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell) and aged Italian driver Piero Taruffi (current Sexiest Man Alive and real-life racer Patrick Dempsey sporting a shock of white hair). The result is a mixed bag to say the least. Sure, winning is great, but at what cost?
Mann has made a handsome albeit confused movie. It simultaneously seems to be a celebration and condemnation of its subject. It’s at its best during its racing sequences (sharply shot by Erik Messerschmidt (who’s having himself a year between this and David Fincher’s “The Killer”) and expertly edited by Ridley Scott’s esteemed, frequent cutter Pietro Scalia).
Speaking of Scott, “Ferrari” reminded me a lot of a few of his recent efforts – namely “House of Gucci” and “Napoleon.” “Gucci” in that it features Driver playing an Italian titan of business with marital woes. “Napoleon” in that its protagonist discards of one wife in favor of another to ensure he has an heir.
The performances are a bit of a mixed bag – many of the actors cut to the emotional truths of their characters, but their turns also ring false due to their accents or lack thereof. Driver is good and his accent is consistent with the work he did in “Gucci,” but the 40-year-old actor can’t help but come across like a kid dressed up for a school play in portraying a then-59-year-old Ferrari. Woodley and Dempsey’s accents come and go with Woodley’s mostly going. Cruz fares the best of anyone as she actually has a European accent (a Spanish one will work with this motley crew), most convincingly plays an Italian and has the most interesting role.
“Ferrari” is the second weakest of the 10 Mann movies I’ve seen (Mann’s made 12 films. I’ve yet to watch “The Keep” or “Manhunter.”), but his worst is still better than a lot of other filmmakers’ best. It’s not as good as James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” (which Mann executive produced), but it’s better than Bobby Moresco’s “Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend” from last year (interview with Moresco here and review here).
Mileage will likely vary with “Ferrari” … it all just depends upon how much time you’re willing to spend with a title character who’s ultimately a real bastard. Merry Christmas indeed!