Vague Visages’ Ferrari review contains minor spoilers. Michael Mann’s 2023 movie features Shailene Woodley, Adam Driver and Sarah Gadon. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Those loud bangs from the Venice Lido aren’t Ferrari’s starting pistols, nor the bulbs of red carpet paparazzi. They’re the first shots fired in the war for Penelope Cruz’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar, for delivering the heart and soul of Michael Mann’s new biopic about automotive tycoon Enzo Ferrari. It’s a tragedy told with sound and fury, a fiercely controlled biopic that brings the subject’s story to life with gusto, grace and goosebump-worthy sound design.
Ferrari looks and sounds like an epic, with its narrative sweep of tragedy. Mann returns to what he seemingly loves most: stories about the terrible joys of men. Ferrari is less of a straightforward thrill ride than a tragic drama, charting one pivotal month in Enzo Ferrari’s life, as the worlds of his business and personal lives begin to blur. In 1957, the subject’s status as a national hero has crested into a pariah, as his cars send Italy’s racing heroes to their deaths.
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The Ferrari trailer sells the film as an elegant drama punctuated with short bursts of high-octane action (and rightly so). Mann’s flair for the analogue grace of these engines is commanding (even for non-auto-heads). But Ferrari, both the film and the man himself, come alive in the boardroom. Mann understands that there’s a very specific, acute joy to be gleaned from watching people perform their jobs very well. For Enzo, the job is nothing less than maintaining his legacy, one that’s at risk of implosion.
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There’s Enzo’s wife, Laura (Cruz), who holds company shares “like a gun” to her husband’s head. And there’s his lover, Lina (Shailene Woodley, with a shaky Italian accent), who wants Enzo to acknowledge his illegitimate son ahead of a christening in two weeks’ time. There’s also his accountant, who warns about the costs of a racing hobby. As Enzo courts sponsorships, wrestles with his wife and reckons with the loss of his first-born son, the subject must find what price he is willing to pay to become the fastest man on the planet.
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If all this sounds a bit like a soap opera, Mann is aware of it. Condensing the subject’s life into a few weeks is a savvy filmmaking move, and the arch script writes Enzo’s childhood and early years with a few deft lines. An opera scene shows Mann at the peak of his powers, a freighted moment of contemplation for what’s at stake. High points such as this make the sequences between Woodley and Driver feel dramatically low-stakes by comparison.
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Yet, there is what can only be described as a Moneyball-esque verve to Ferrari, as viewers can root for a man whose blending of personal and professional worth have become so psychologically entwined that the unravelling starts to tear. The film is a tragedy, but there’s a real-life tragedy within it too, which arrives near the end of the third act with gristly realism.
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Mann presents Ferrari as a stoic, single-minded man, not so much tone-deaf in his privilege as he is bloody-minded in his ambition. The tycoon behaves like somebody never heeding the word “no,” as he buys people out and makes everyone around him pay the high price of success. In other words, Enzo behaves like a character from a Michael Mann film.
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Driver brings the paunchy paterfamilias to vivid life as best he can in Ferrari, ably aided by a script that articulately wrestles with questions of authority, legacy and guilt. But the man himself remains something of an enigma — there’s the audience’s impression of him, and then there’s Driver’s gravitas, and these only go some ways to sketching a full portrait that Ferrari cannot quite complete. Sarah Gadon, Gabriel Leone, Jack O’Connell and Patrick Dempsey are game yet gratuitous add-ins to the cast, burnishing their scenes but never really having their moment in the floodlights.
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Ferrari is a mixed portrait; a kind of freeze-frame of 50s masculinity, in all its ruthlessness and moral codes that have not adapted to a less binary society. Except the film stops short, as Mann doesn’t resolve a key character tension, other than to suggest that time and money did their dirty work. Ferrari has a coda in the vein of most traditional biopics, and it’s less focused on the subject than on where the brand is now. Perhaps that’s the real legacy of Enzo Ferrari: there’s now a biopic in his name, with all the soap opera that his high-wire life as a tycoon created, but the final imprint is that of the Ferrari logo, the brand’s power and the shuddering sensation of something fast having just whooshed by.
Jonny Mahon-Heap is a culture and lifestyle reporter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Little White Lies, Man About Town and Metro.
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