The creator of Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari, once said, “If you ask a child to draw a car, they’ll draw it red”. The Ferrari camp has exuded that sentiment, to an almost narcissistic level of belief, since the company’s inception in 1947. Undoubtedly, Ferrari has had the racing world by the lug nuts, with the team being the current longest-running entrant in Formula One. That they are the oldest team on the grid also allots them a special payment for their participation. Until 2020, they were being paid by Formula One a princely $100 million yearly ($35 million per year since) just to continue participating in the sport even if they haven’t won a drivers’ championship in 15 years. However, that drought of success hasn’t been the sole reason behind the team’s waning public perception. The Netflix docu-series Drive to Survive has lifted the curtain on their once private behind-the-scenes troubles, revealing those catastrophic tactical errors that social media can regurgitate week in, week out. Drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz became the brunt of internet memes due to the team committing egregious racing blunders and slow pit stops. Instead, as they find themselves unable to win races often enough, their iconic logo has become barely more than brand awareness.
So, when the long-gestating Michael Mann-directed biographical drama concerning the creation of Ferrari at the hands of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) was finally announced, it felt like the perfect opportunity for the team to replenish their image, a chance to remind the public of Ferrari’s long, illustrious history in the process. Unfortunately, FERRARI is the equivalent of their current status on the grid: messy plot pit stops, lagging behind everyone else and a bit of a laughing stock.
In 1957, ten years after their inception, Ferrari are both successful pioneers and facing bankruptcy. The number of luxury sports cars they produce is down, and Enzo Ferrari’s obsession with racing means they’re perpetually in the red each financial year. Enzo is told that if they win races – specifically the 1957 Mille Miglia, the race that features prominently in the third act – they will sell cars, but to do that, they need more capital. Enzo needs the stocks and shares allocated to his wife, Laura Ferrari (Penelope Cruz), to acquire the power to get a deal together. Laura has no interest in giving these up lightly as the couple are all but divorced, the frayed ligaments of their relationship remaining only in service of public perception. The death of their son Alfredo Ferrari – named after Enzo Ferrari’s older brother – at 24 years old has ruptured their relationship. Enzo and Laura reach a boiling point when she learns about Enzo’s decade-long, not-so-secret affair with Linda Lardi (Shailene Woodley) and the child he is slyly raising with her.
Adam Driver, silver-haired and reuniting audiences with his much-derided Italian brogue from THE HOUSE OF GUCCI, is adequate as Enzo Ferrari, bringing his natural standoffish charisma to the role, but the accent is a distracting menace. Penelope Cruz is the strongest of the ensemble (which features Jack O’Connell and Patrick Dempsey as Ferrari drivers Peter Collins and Piero Taruffi, respectively). Still, she is given little character to do anything with other than play the part of a woman scorned, shooting a bullet a foot away from Enzo’s head. Her sarcastic slights against Enzo are much-needed levity from a script bogged down in bland platitudes.
“[Penelope Cruz] is given little character to do anything with other than play the part of a woman scorned, shooting a bullet a foot away from Enzo’s head. Her sarcastic slights against Enzo are much-needed levity from a script bogged down in bland platitudes.”
Ferrari is handsomely shot, with Mann’s gaze lingering on sunlit Italian architecture and an unkempt, empty marital bed. As the scarlet race cars blitz past, the camera lingers on the tranquillity of nature, juxtaposing the drip of motor oil and viridescent forestry in a way that almost shows a disparity between nature and technology: that man can never create something as beautiful as the world around us. Mann’s ideas on characters fuelled by grief rather than gasoline are admirable, but FERRARI seems to have engine failure.
Mann continually lifts off the accelerator whenever drama threatens, creating a more subdued foray into familial drama. This wearisome focus also frustratingly occurs during the displays of supposedly high-octane racing, which should be a brisk adrenaline injection. When the Mille Miglia race begins in the third act with the piercing shrill of burning rubber, it feels like the first two acts were just a false start. But as we begin flitting between the racing and the bland storyline between Laura and Enzo, the relationship needs more mileage to keep the momentum up.
“Mann continually lifts off the accelerator whenever drama threatens, creating a more subdued foray into familial drama. This wearisome focus also frustratingly occurs during the displays of supposedly high-octane racing, which should be a brisk adrenaline injection.”
These race scenes of the Mille Miglia are shot similarly to how George Miller envisions the action in the MAD MAX franchise, without the scorched edge that the apocalyptic wasteland setting allows. FERRARI’s old-school sensibilities, akin to that of GRAND PRIX with their similarly hyper-sped-up crash zooms, would be appealing if not for the use of the laughably poor green screen, a sad trait of the contemporary filmmaking that Mann seemingly embraces.
The laughable aspect of FERRARI doesn’t stop with how unappealing the style Mann employs is, but in the uncomfortably macabre black humour style in which he shows death (the caveat of which is that the infamous Mille Miglia crash is the film’s highlight). FERRARI’s silliness is in how CGI race car drivers will be catapulted to their deaths, flailing their arms like plasticine figures. The late Troy Kennedy Martin laces the script with wry, dark levity, but this makes the film feel conflicted inside a biographical melodrama as these portions of the film become their own antithesis, finding themselves incompatible with each other.
To Mann’s credit, the sound design of the film has this almost tangible quality to it as every slam of a door vibrates through one’s eardrum, every screeching tyre echoes around the theatre, and even if Daniel Pemberton’s score gets lost in the revs too often, it is resoundingly pleasant to listen to.
The joy of watching motorsports is seeing the fiery passion that burns in the soul of everyone taking part, and racing fans know when they see that exact triumphant feeling. Like most sports, racing provides a thrilling escape from the world as adrenaline-fuelled drivers scream expletives down microphones and ‘fuck-smash’ doors. Sadly, FERRARI fails to capture that same passion, especially with a film which focuses on the Italian creator of the most famous team in the world: a team known for their vibrant, devout fervour and a nationality rooted in spirited volatility. Mann’s film is not a car crash by any means, but the rousing romp it could have been has ended up more of a minor ‘inchident’ within the grand history of the Ferrari legacy.