Ferrari film is stuck in the slow lane

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Despite being a handsome period drama filled with witty black humour, Michael Mann’s Ferrari “pootles along”, writes Nicholas Barber from the Venice Film Festival.


Adam Driver played an Italian industrialist with a resentful wife in House of Gucci as recently as 2021, but he does the same thing again in Ferrari, the first film in eight years to be directed by Michael Mann. This time it’s Penélope Cruz rather than Lady Gaga who co-stars as his fiery other half, but the two films have much in common, not least the international cast delivering English dialogue in a variety of Italian accents that probably should have been confined to a Super Mario Bros movie. Maybe Driver felt that, with his surname, he had no choice but to play Enzo Ferrari, racing champion-turned car manufacturer.

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In 1957, Enzo and his wife, Laura, have built their company into a world-renowned brand, and one of the main employers in the town of Modena. But things aren’t running as smoothly as they once did. Enzo and Laura haven’t been happy since the death of their son from a kidney disease. Enzo, grey-haired and thick around the waist, prefers to steal away from their apartment and visit the country villa he shares with his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley) and the young son that Laura doesn’t know about.

The company isn’t in top gear, either. Maserati and Jaguar keep beating Ferrari in races and breaking its speed records. To stay in business, Ferrari needs to sell more cars to consumers. But to sell more cars to consumers, it needs the publicity of a major victory: specifically, Enzo’s team has to win a 1,000-mile cross-country road race, the Mille Miglia. Just in case that’s not clear, Enzo keeps saying, “We have to win the Mille Miglia.”

To be fair, Troy Kennedy Martin’s screenplay, adapted from a biography by Brock Yates, is studded with witty black humour and colourful exchanges. The film looks good, too. Mann has made a handsome period drama in which the screen is always filled with snappily dressed extras, attractive locations, and, inevitably, gleaming red vintage cars. But it feels less like a dynamic true-life thriller than a prestigious, watchable-but-all-too-leisurely television series. The characters drift dully from boardrooms to bedrooms, from banks to barber shops, from churches to racetracks, but Mann never puts his foot on the accelerator. He doesn’t build any momentum. Nor does he supply the urgency that comes from knowing why any of it matters. Why should we care whether Ferrari goes bankrupt – especially, of course, as we know that it won’t?


Director: Michael Mann

Cast: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Gabriel Leone

Run time: 2hrs 10m

The film’s two most vivid sequences involve horrific accidents that are guaranteed to have audiences gasping, so it doesn’t fudge how dangerous the sport can be. Ferrari’s new recruit, Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone), only gets the job after watching his predecessor hurtle to his gory demise. But no one seems to mind. They shrug the fatalities off – and the film shrugs off the fatalities, too, which in one hideous case feels cruelly disrespectful. Perhaps Mann is simply reflecting the callous motor-racing mindset of the period, but Ferrari’s team-members are a weirdly sleepy, passionless bunch. They’re all so unenthusiastic that you may feel entitled to ask why the drivers risk life and limb, and why Enzo himself is so intent on winning. Why, having lost a brother and son to illness, is he so relaxed about sending young men (and sometimes unlucky spectators) to their deaths?

Who knows? For all his legendary achievements, he comes across as a grumpy provincial middle manager. Cruz gets to clump around town scowling at people, but she doesn’t convey what Laura thinks about the company she helps to run. And Jack O’Connell pops up as an English driver, Peter Collins, but he is given almost nothing to say except the immortal line, “Thank you, old bean.” To put it in the most appropriate terms: it’s hard to see what drives any of them. The racing sequences have enough energy and jeopardy to raise the pulse rate, but the rest of Ferrari… well, surely a film about high-speed cars shouldn’t pootle along as slowly as this one does.


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