Adam Driver goes all in for portrayal of revered car maker in Ferrari
The idea of the problematic male genius is one that has historically been over-represented in film history, including in 2023 with examples both good and bad. Michael Mann’s new film, Ferrari, attempts to give the renowned car maker Enzo Ferrari the same treatment, with the advantage that the Italian may not be as well-known outside of lending his name to luxury automobiles.
The film starts in 1957, with Enzo (Adam Driver), an ex-race car driver, 10 years into a venture that is on the verge of complete failure. His racers have not performed as well as expected, and the fact that the company purposefully sells so few “production” cars to the public – only 98 the previous year – has put extra pressure on the racing side of the company to succeed.
Enzo is also estranged from his wife, Laura (Penélope Cruz), who owns half the company. Any business decisions he has to run by her are complicated by his longtime affair with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), with whom he has a son. He must juggle his personal life with his professional one, with a race known as the Mille Miglia – a 1,000-mile race around Italy – perhaps a solution to everything that ails him.
Directed by Mann from a script by Troy Kennedy Martin, the film goes back-and-forth between Enzo’s two worlds, with their intertwining nature demonstrating how much pressure he has on him at almost all times.
The film is at its best when it delves into his relationships. Laura has a barely-controlled fury that’s colored not just by Enzo’s infidelity, but also his strong-arm business tactics and a residual grief from the recent death of their son, Alfredo. Lina has a growing dissatisfaction at being “the other woman” and because Enzo, despite being a loving father in private, is unable to publicly acknowledge their son.
The business side is complex, with Enzo considering a deal to sell the business to Ford should their fortunes not improve. He is very exacting with his driving team, which includes Alfonso De Portago (Gabriel Leone) and Piero Tarufi (Patrick Dempsey), and also with the way the company is covered by the press. The details get relatively murky in the middle part of the film, with Mann not always able to tell that part of the story well.
The film does have some solid racing scenes, with their kinetic nature making up for the fact that it’s next to impossible to tell who’s winning and who’s losing at any one point, especially in the Mille Miglia. The fast driving and scenic locations are good distractions from this lack, though, and one particularly shocking crash sequence highlights the danger of the sport in an intense way.
Driver, as he always does, goes all-in with his character, affecting an Italian – but not “too” Italian – accent and either wearing a body suit or putting on weight to look hefty in the role. His scenes with Cruz are the best in the film, as the Oscar nominees know exactly how to modulate their performances. Woodley feels a bit out of place; her style of acting worked much better in this year's Dumb Money.
Ferrari does not match the depth of other Oscar hopeful movies in 2023, but with a couple of great performances and a story that gives a full impression of a creative genius instead of merely venerating him, it makes for a worthwhile watch.
Ferrari opens in theaters on Christmas Day.