Not just any actor could have played Enzo Ferrari. To find the right person to play this motor racing driver, they needed a driver. And luckily, they found Adam Driver.
Okay, bad jokes aside, Ferrari is the latest biographical sports drama about the man, the cars, the races, and the machine (according to the title of the book this movie is based on). It’s directed by Michael Mann, who has helmed famous films like Heat, Collateral, and The Last of the Mohicans. This is his first feature film since Blackhat in 2015, and he has arrived with less of a bang than you may expect. Although there is a lot to appreciate about Ferrari, there is a lot about this film that does not work as well as it should have.
There is a lot of potential for a true story about Enzo Ferrari, a man whose name everyone associates with luxury sports cars. This film has a good amount of heart, surrounding his deteriorating marriage with his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz) and the death of his son. Movies surrounding this topic can be successful, with Ford v Ferrari in 2019 serving as a massive hit. That movie also featured an actor playing Ferrari, but this is the movie that put him at the forefront. What makes this movie surprising is how little it actually does for its audience by the time the credits roll.
What works about the movie? The performances are excellent. Driver carries the film with a very different look, accent, and set of mannerisms. The only issue here is the fact that he carries little to no physical resemblance to the real Ferrari, despite the makeup that was supposed to do that. Interestingly, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were previously in negotiations for the role, and Jackson would have had a greater physical resemblance. Regardless, Driver allows you to sit with the character as he displays strong emotion and authority throughout his performance. He elevates the material given to him in the script, but we’ll get to that later.
Cruz also shines as Laura Ferrari. From her opening scene, where she takes a gun and shoots a bullet near her husband, it can immediately be a worry as to whether the performance will work as a serious piece or if it will descend into a melodramatic caricature. Cruz teeters the line a few times, but she makes it work. Shailene Woodley and Patrick Dempsey are also serviceable additions to the film. However, the rest of the movie feels surprisingly lethargic. We have talent on the screen, but Ferrari lacks the energy that could make it as interesting as it could be.
The script from Troy Kennedy Martin is the most underwhelming element of the film. It does very little to get you invested. Although the narrative is building towards Ferrari’s racing team entering the 1957 Mille Miglia, the movie executes the storyline in a way that does not pull you in. The dialogue and the structure don’t fully work. I would not have believed that I’d prefer Gran Turismo over this film, but when it comes to this year’s racing movies, that film scratched the itch I needed. Although this movie has been more popular with other critics, and you’ll find it on some end-of-year lists, I found Ferrari dull more often than I should have.
There are a few sequences that work very well in this film. One scene uses graphic violence in a way that will make your jaw drop. A few of the more emotional scenes between Driver and Cruz’s characters are also effective because the marriage we follow throughout the film is rough, flawed, and occasionally passionate. There are a few scenes where music is used well and a few scenes where the musical score arrives abruptly and distracts from the dialogue. The story does not push intrigue enough, nor does it get you as invested in the journey as it should have.
By the time Ferrari ends, it doesn’t leave you with a strong emotion of victory, defeat, or anywhere in between. Mann is an excellent director, but his choices here range from superb to mundane. The dialogue does not always grab your attention the way it should, and the film lacks momentum that could have gotten you excited. Even though the movie ultimately features some racing action, it isn’t enough to leave you with the strong impressions that other true story movies have this year, like Oppenheimer or Air. There are a few superb moments of tragedy that are gripping, but it’s too inconsistent of an experience to recommend.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5 equates to “Mediocre.” The positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.
Disclosure: ComingSoon attended the New York Film Festival for our Ferrari review.