Michael Mann’s Ferrari doesn’t pick up much speed – review

Walking into Largo Garibaldi, where Enzo Ferrari lived, piazza Grande and piazza Roma in the summer of 2022 had been pure de ja vu for me. I had found myself in the Modena of my childhood, the old-fashioned traffic lights, buses, billboards and period memorabilia flashing from my inner eye. That summer Hollywood had invaded my hometown, Modena, and had remained in town for several months, reshaping it the way it was in 1957 to shoot the film. As a consequence, I went to the sneak preview of Ferrari this early December with anticipation, great expectations that were running through the town in general as well, but came out of the cinema a bit disappointed. Indeed the setting is great and nostalgia-filled but this car drama rarely ‘puts pedal to metal’.

This is not only because Hollywood rarely gets to the core of a character, a life, a situation, a drama as European filmmakers do, but also because the choice of concentrating Enzo Ferrari’s life in one single topic year does not give openness to the plot, making it a claustrophobic one, the story of a worldwide iconic successful man and his brand in a time when everything could have gone wrong and put an end to his dream. In the movie, commendator Ferrari is torn between his wife and his mistress, his dead son and his ‘illegal’ one, bankruptcy and the obligation to win the Mille Miglia, the competition with Maserati and his rebellious pilots. Ferrari will make it in the end, but there is not a real happy end: the Mille Miglia ends up in a horror crash and his personal life remains uncertain, even if the film hints at Enzo Ferrari’s future as a winner.

In contrast with the interior sequences of his private life are the stunning race scenes, in the glorious tradition of Hollywood action movies and car chases. “It has some impressive and deafening race scenes, set in that extraordinary era when there was no safety either for drivers or the crowds behind the straw bales (or behind nothing at all). But it only really comes to life at the moments of pure horror – one death of a driver early on and then later a grotesque tragedy involving nine members of the public, four adults and five children” (The Guardian review).

Driver plays ‘il commendatore’ with conviction and impassive stoicism but rarely the humanity of the persona comes out of the screen. His embittered wife Laura, in whose name he has recklessly put the business assets, is well portrayed by Penélope Cruz, a more cool businesswoman than an enraged wife. A more flat character is his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley) in her patient wait to officially exist and have her son recognized by his adulterous father.

The film is basically a homage to the myth of a top world brand and its founder, born in post-war Italy and developed in the times of the ‘miracolo economico’ of the late 50s and 60s in the heart of the so-called food&motor valley. Modena without Ferrari or Maserati, good food – and great musicians too – is like Rome without the Colosseum – unconceivable.