Ferrari Delivers A Moody Mediation Worth Exploring

If time is a thief, what, then, is grief? The ever-present reminder of time that never had the privilege to be stolen at all. Ferrari’s trailers focus on the pressure to win; the pressure to save a company on the brink of failure. Ferrari, the film, however, is more focused on Enzo Ferrari’s grief. A grief that weighs on him every moment as he wades through the tumult of his life. The trailer promises high-speed, tense, heart-pounding racing. Michael Mann, instead, constructs a melancholic mood piece about a “deadly passion” and “terrible joy” – living after a catastrophic loss.

Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) remarks that he makes cars so he can race; he doesn’t race to sell cars. This is highlighted by the fact that Ferrari is going broke. Enzo spends more than he makes selling only 98 cars yearly to royalty and the wealthy. But this integrity of intent and dogged pursuit of winning comes at a high cost. Racing for Alfa Romeo from 1920 to 1932, he lost two friends and fellow drivers to the dangerous sport. As the film begins he is mourning the death of his son Dino when Ferrari driver Eugenio Castellotti is killed during race testing. Death seems to follow him and it’s far from done with him. The life of his company depends on winning the rapidly approaching Mille Miglia – a 1000-mile race across Italy. The joy he once felt as a younger man, husband, and father is gone. We see only glimpses through flashbacks and his interaction with his young son Piero whom he secretly fathered with his mistress, Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley).

Mann’s film is a beautiful one; particularly in its dynamic close-ups. The way he frames his actors’ faces as they portray both the most delicate and inelegant of emotions, is pure art. Penelope Cruz, in particular, crackles with resentment and grief. She tears through the picture every time she’s on screen. Her Laura (Ferrari’s strained, not yet estranged, wife) is charismatic even when blank. She’s formidable; she helped Enzo create Ferrari as a true partner. She is the engine of Ferrari the film, and the man; inevitably pushing him (almost against her own will) to live again truly. Likewise, the cars and racing are something to behold. The engines roar, screaming across the screen. The race footage is shot with precision and tension. The crashes are grotesque Looney Toon shorts (a compliment), viscerally portraying the mind-boggling danger of racing at the time. It’s hard for the brain to comprehend just how violent crashing at that time at that speed could be.

While the film features tremendous performances from Cruz and Driver, in particular, it feels uneven and somehow incomplete. Woodley feels miscast. Her bohemian Big Little Lies energy is a marked, understandable, difference from Cruz’ more traditional, fierce Italian matriarch, but her performance lacks the energy and passion you feel from Driver and Cruz even at their most reserved. The film’s ending feels rushed. We witness a crescendo (no spoilers) moment followed by a fantastic piece of acting by Penelope Cruz and then we’re rushed to some wrap-up text on the screen and out of the theater. I really would have liked to see the film’s first half condensed, the Mille Miglia at the film’s halfway point, and a really strong exploration of Enzo’s new chapter to finish.

Ultimately Michael Mann’s Ferrari is a moody meditation worth exploring. While it will likely leave some racing fans confused or even disappointed with its racing obsession as a metaphor for the pursuit of life after a shattering death, I was happy to be surprised. I did not feel like I was watching a biopic with all the cliched, stiff, grandiose baggage that can entail. I drove home from the theater in deep thought. While I did not love the film it has stayed with me. Ferrari is the work of an auteur and even when that work is not completely successful it is always interesting, worthwhile, and something to be grateful for.


3.5 stars out of 5