Adam Driver is well-cast as Enzo Ferrari. Aged up with good but not overly elaborate makeup to resemble Ferrari in his fifties, Driver plays the legendary entrepreneur as a man of contradictions. Cold-blooded on the track, with him barely raising an eyebrow when a long-time driver of his perishes in an accident doing laps, he’s also devastated by the death of his son a year earlier. While somewhat devoted to his wife and business partner Laura (Penélope Cruz), he’s also juggling another family, with him having a son with his mistress Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley).
Mann’s Ferrari is relatively lean for one of his films, only running a shade over two hours and containing the action of one pivotal year for Ferrari, 1957. We’re shown that he’s on the verge of bankruptcy, with his only hope to achieve a much-desired merger being to put the company back on the map by demonstrating to the world the power of his cars through the Mille Miglia.
In many ways, this serves as a quasi-prequel to Ford v Ferrari, showing you how his racing team came to be seen as unbeatable, even if the cost was high. People forget how much of a bloodsport racing was back then, with frequent deadly accidents. It wasn’t old dangerous for the drivers either. The movie brilliantly depicts one devastating accident where spectators, including women and children, are literally torn limb from limb by a car that spins out of control. The only other movie to depict just how brutal this sport can be is probably John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix.
You can tell that Mann has a lot of expertise in terms of racing, and it’s worth noting that Patrick Dempsey, who plays one of Ferrari’s drivers, Piero Taruffi, is, in fact, an accomplished racer himself, having competed in 24 Hours at Le Mans, giving his driving scenes a little extra oomph. Gabriel Leone, who plays Ferrari’s top racer Alfonso de Portago, is so convincing behind the wheel that Netflix has snapped him up to play Ayrton Senna in their upcoming series.
Mann’s movie and Kennedy Martin’s screenplay do a good job juggling Ferrari’s racing ambitions with his complicated home life, with Cruz especially good as his fiery wife, Laura, who blames him for their son’s death, hates him for his infidelities, and thinks nothing of taking the occasional shot at him with her favourite firearm when he displeases her. Yet, she also evokes how her love for Ferrari was essentially discarded by the man in a way that made her vicious, with the death of her son being the thing that finally pushed her over the edge.
Woodley is also effective as Lina Lardi, Ferrari’s young lover who, as she matures, begins to wake up to the fact that she’ll never be seen as his legitimate partner (divorce was illegal in Italy at the time) and is always doomed to be his mistress. Yet, Ferrari could have been portrayed as a monster – and he’s not. As played by Driver, Ferrari truly loves Lardi and adores their son together, and is all too aware of his failings as both a husband and father.
It all adds up to a three-dimensional portrait of the man through one very short period in his life. While I assume Mann might have originally planned a more ambitious, sprawling Ferrari biopic, I’m not sure that one was needed. This does the trick pretty well, with it also, as usual for the director, impeccably shot, with evocative lensing by Erik Messerschmidt and a good score by Daniel Pemberton. It’s a very enjoyable, entertaining look at one of the most important names in 20th-century automobiles and an often thrilling depiction of just how dangerous a sport of auto racing can be.