As a fan of Michael Mann’s work (“The Insider,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat”), I ventured out to see Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari in the December 25th release “Ferrari.” Mann has long been well-acquainted with racing and with Ferrari. Mann was one of the executive producers of “Ford v Ferrari” (2019), the superior film with Christian Bale and Matt Damon. The current Adam Driver movie is a long-time labor of love for the 80-year-old director. Christian Bale was attached as the lead at one point, and, after him, Hugh Jackman.
The budget for the Christmas day release is listed as $95 million to $110 million. Sadly, it has earned less than 10% of that amount back since its recent release. It was #9 in domestic charts, well behind all 6 of the other domestic recent releases and was not doing that well on Netflix, either. One wonders if Mann’s proposed plans to release a sequel to “Heat” will suffer as a result of this misstep with “Ferrari.”
I had heard that the racing scenes were good. Certainly the phenomenal crash that ended the Mile Miglia race forever in 1957 was impressively staged. Nine people died in that 1,000 mile race when driver Alfonso de Portago struck something in the roadway. The tire blew out, and the car crashed spectacularly, killing a total of 9 people, including the driver and onlookers, 5 of whom were children. The way it is staged in this film, the audience might well think that it might have been sabotage. The crash spelled the end of the Mile Miglia race forever. A lengthy court case dragged on with manslaughter charges finally being dismissed by the courts in 1961.
The acting from such stalwarts as Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz, Jack O’Connell and Patrick Dempsey is fine. One reviewer gave Cruz special praise for displaying fire in her role as Laura Ferrari, Enzo’s wife. To me, she seemed quite one-dimensional, presenting a sour and intense presence throughout, even when just walking along a city street.
Laura Ferrari had many reasons to be depressed and bitter. Her son, Dino, died of muscular dystrophy the year before the Mile Miglia race (1956) at the too-young age of 24. Laura also learns that her philandering husband has a second family, including a young son, midway through the movie.
I was struck by the sheer physicality of Adam Driver. An ex-Marine, is 6 feet 2 and ½ inches tall. How tall was Enzo Ferrari? In photos of Driver with other cast members, he seems to definitely be the tallest one in the room. While Enzo Ferrari looks slightly taller and bulkier (in old photos) than the Italian males he is standing alongside, Driver just doesn’t seem like the ideal choice to portray an Italian male. My impression of European men, in general, (during my stint as a foreign exchange student abroad), is that they are not physically as large as their American counterparts.
Other than his sheer physical size, Driver seems very controlled and “stiff upper lip-ish” when onscreen. The catastrophic crash, the arguments with his wife over his mistress (and with his mistress over his wife), the scenes where he visits his son’s crypt: he is controlled throughout and doesn’t display much emotion. Troy Kennedy Martin wrote the script, based on the 1991 Brock Yates biography “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine.” Is the script at fault for this impassive nearly one-dimensional presentation.
Staging the race scenes and the crash was a fantastic achievement. The countryside is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt. Getting the period details (including the many period cars) “right” must have been daunting. The music (Daniel Pemberton) is good; music is always key for Michael Mann.
The young boy playing Ferrari’s illegitimate son (Guiseppi Festinesi) does a fine job. The actor portraying the doomed Alfonso de Portage, Gabriel Leone, bears a close resemblance to the actual driver, who was Spanish nobility and once competed with the Spanish bobsledding team at the Olympics.
In the film de Portage’s romance with actress Linda Christian (Sarah Gadon) is highlighted. She is said to have broken up with actor Tyrone Power to date the race car driver. One of the better lines in the script is Ferrari’s comment to the press, after laying down the law to his new race car driver that he must not have starlets joining him at the garage because the press then spends all of their time taking pictures of the actresses and not the cars. Says Enzo to the assembled press: “When we win, I can’t see my ass for starlets’ asses. When we lose, you’re a lynch mob.”
Other famous folk routinely frequented the Ferrari showroom. Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman are mentioned by the real-life son of Ferrari as frequent regular customers. Prince Bernard of the Netherlands was also a recurring customer and a close friend of Ferrari during life. Neither of these real-life facts makes it into the film, but the completely fabricated autograph request from Enzo’s young son does, repeatedly, even though it never happened (according to the now-grown younger son.)
“Ferrari” the film is dead on arrival. Most of the audience probably does not know the history of the Mile Maglia race. Whether they care is also up for debate. It is not made very clear that the accident that creates the film’s most spectacular (and very gory) scene means that the race will never be held again. The many Italian characters and race-car driver names come and go without much impact; they are difficult to remember and/or understand and none has much of a part.
I’m still wondering what Shailene Woodley’s ethnicity is supposed to be, since she does not seem very Italian. Was Lina Lardi a local girl? Why is she so passive about Enzo’s dragging his feet on acknowledging her and, more importantly, acknowledging their son Piero (who now runs the company). Lina is definitely a constant presence in Enzo Ferrari’s life. After wife Laura’s death in 1979, the elder Ferrari could finally publicly acknowledge his surviving son. The couple were together until Ferrari’s death in 1988 at the age of 90. However, Enzo’s reputation as a philanderer was well-established before his first wife Laura learned about it.
Most of the audience probably doesn’t have the depth of knowledge about or interest in the Ferrari dynasty that Director Michael Mann has had for years. Somehow, the director needed to be able to convey this extensive information to the audience quickly and intelligibly. That doesn’t happen here. Many questions linger and the parade of various drivers (Jack O’Connell and Patrick Dempsey among them) that are mentioned and paraded out like pawns in a chess game get very little that makes any of them come to life, with the possible exception of the doomed Alfonso de Portago. (Gabriel Leone) who does get a racy bedroom scene with his girlfriend Linda Christian.
While the love triangle involving Enzo Ferrari’s two families is interesting, it doesn’t come off as very true-to-life. Real women put in the position of this secret love triangle might not be as reasonable nor as calm as Lina and Laura seem most of the time. The plot also conveniently fails to mention the numerous other women in Ferrari’s life.
“We all know it is our deadly passion, a terrible joy.” (Line from the script).
If racing is your passion, you will enjoy this 2 hour and 10 minute film. The crash is great (if gory, be warned), and the examination of Ferrari’s love triangle, while unrealistic IRL, gives us knowledge about the man. But, overall, this time at bat was not a home run for Michael Mann, the esteemed four-time Oscar-nominated director.