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  • Nate Adams

'Ferrari' review: Michael Mann’s biopic goes off track


Courtesy of Neon

 

For the second time in two years, Adam Driver is playing an Italian visionary whose wife despises him. In 2021, it was “House of Gucci,” and in 2023, it’s Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” a muffled biopic that stops and stalls more often than it accelerates. Namely because the movie is filled with American actors brandishing questionable Italian accents that are not far removed from what Chris Pratt displayed in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” On some level, you could make a case “House of Gucci” was high camp and the performers, specifically Jared Leto and Al Pacino, understood their assignment, and while co-star Penelope Cruz, playing the jaded wife, certainly has some edge over Lady Gaga’s performance, she’s unfortunately stuck in a movie that’s on autopilot.


Set in 1957, “Ferrari” picks a crucial moment in Enzo Ferrari’s life to adapt: one where the car manufacturer is on the brink of collapse and the only pathway towards salvation is a 1,000-mile cross-country race called the Mille Miglia. If Ferrari is victorious, perhaps a billionaire will infuse some extra cash flow on the books and help save the company. Things are not copacetic with his wife, Laura (Cruz) who hasn’t been the same since their young child died of illness; and Enzo would rather spend time in a country villa with his mistress, Lina (Shailene Woodley - sporting one of those “signature” Italian accents), and their young son of whom Laura knows nothing about. 


Meanwhile, the legacy of his family empire hangs in the balance: Maserati and Jaguar are constantly proving their more equipped for the future and Ferrari needs to start pushing consumer cars or risk bankruptcy. But he needs the publicity of the Mille Miglia to do it, and he hires a rag-tag crew of drivers (among them a bleach blonde Patrick Dempsy who’s Italian accent might be the most offensive thing in the film) to help get them past the finish line. 


To Mann’s credit, the racing sequences are exhilarating, and he’s made a well-crafted period drama that’s bursting with gorgeous imagery of the Italian countryside and some humorous dark comedy. And yet, Troy Kennedy Martin’s screenplay, adapted from the biography by Brock Yates, never finds its rhythm. The movie tries juggling all of Ferrari's affairs and it inevitably leaves someone with the short end of the leash. The characters are in constant motion, jumping from boardrooms to dining rooms to banks and racetracks without giving audiences a genuine reason to stay invested. If I already know Ferrari will not lose all his money, then why should I care about anything that’s transpiring? 


The most shocking scene comes late in the film, and it involves a horrific, soul-shattering accident. And yet, its aftermath is hardly felt, much like most of the movie where the characters never seem to grasp the severity of their situations. At one point, one of Ferrari’s drivers is given a position after he, quite literally, witnesses the death of his predecessor right in front of him. How is that for job security? 


Despite Cruz’s best efforts, all she really gets to do is mope for two hours, scowling at the screen every time there’s even a whiff of inconvenience. Elsewhere, Jack O’ Connell and Peter Collins show up as drivers on Ferrari’s team, but we never truly understand what makes them tick. At no time did I find myself rooting for their success, but at least the racing sequences have a dose of exhilaration.


It’s in these moments where Mann truly seems to be within his element and letting loose during those high-octane moments. Sadly, the personal aspect, which is a major component of the film, drastically needs a tune-up. 


Grade: C


FERRARI opens in theaters nationwide Christmas day. 




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