For over twenty years, Michael Mann has been committed to exploring flawed, complex characters. He's built an impressive canon of movies, featuring high stakes, hardened professionals, and a distinct cinematic style. With 1995's Heat, the director gave audiences an intense thriller and created a neo-noir tale with Miami Vice. Now, in Ferrari – a 1957- set biopic that stars Adam Driver as the titular character – Mann unravels the story of a famous figure.
Here, Driver portrays Enzo Ferrari as a conflicted man, grappling with messy relationships which include his estranged wife Laura (Penelope Cruz), whilst handling a car business that's on the verge of financial collapse. Based on Brock Yates' 1991 book, Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine, the film unpacks the politics and drama of a legacy-defining car brand. And there's no doubting the power of Ferrari. It's of course one of the most famous brands in the world, but how well is this captured on screen?
With the icy performance of Adam Driver, Ferrari is somewhat different to other biopics out there. Rather than focusing on the entire life of its subject, the film crafts a careful snapshot of a specific period in time, portraying the title character as he approaches old age. He's an icon in the world of motorsports, but the pressures of the industry are wearing him down, and he's conscious of the progress being made by rival car companies. An early scene finds Ferrari driving at break-neck speed, which then builds towards him preparing his racing team for a major competition. As with all Mann's films, the cinematography is impeccable with each scene delving deeper into the world of Ferrari. It's great work from award-winning cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, who's collaborated with many other directors on films like Mank and Gone Girl.
Ferrari was a long time coming. It was a $95 million passion project for Mann, who has been trying to make the film since the 1990s. Receiving distribution from independent studio Neon, Mann ventured outside of the traditional studio system to produce the project. The dedication to bringing Enzo Ferrari to life in his biopic is clear, but it's difficult to ignore the film's languid pacing, despite its engaging central performances and vivid set pieces. The film, on the surface, looks great but it lacks momentum with many characters aimlessly drifting in and out of scenes.
Dramatically, Ferrari has a lot going for it. Mann explores the collision of the character's professional and personal life, with Ferrari portrayed as a man struggling to balance the responsibilities of his car company and his challenges at home. There's a tense disengagement every time Ferrari moves through domestic spaces, as his mind is always on business, though we never get the sense he enjoys his profession. He's mechanical and ruthless, depicted as someone who is simply focused on a job well done. In addition, Penelope Cruz delivers a commanding performance as Laura, bringing depth and gravitas to the character.
Much of the acting overshadows the racing, which surprisingly isn't the main focus of the movie, but when they do appear, viewers are treated to classic, bright red cars speeding on the racetrack. The Ferraris are visually striking, with Mann easily capturing the awe of a Ferrari race car. However, the actual driving sequences aren't as thrilling or immersive as might have been expected, leaving you firmly in your seats rather than on the edge.
There are certainly interesting narrative beats, from Ferrari's interpersonal battles to the evolving car industry. Perhaps a stronger plotline with a greater sense of urgency could have tied these threads together to make them more compelling. Thematically, Ferrari is a typical Michael Mann film. It tackles morality and obsession, with brazen characters that still shine brightly in the quieter moments. Ferrari rests on Mann's hyperfocus on the details and it's a deliberately constrained film. The early years of Formula One are well-realised, but for all the volatility of this period in car history, the film never quite reaches top gear, yet it remains watchable for its style and drama.
Ferrari is now in cinemas