Director – Michael Mann – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 130m
As Enzo Ferrari’s racing team takes on a particularly tough race in 1957, the complexities of his private life prove equally challenging – out in UK cinemas on Tuesday, December 26th
You might reasonably expect a movie about legendary driver turned racing car manufacturer Enzo Ferrari to be about motor racing, and while that’s undeniably true of this film, it’s about far more. In essence, it’s a character study about a man’s life focused on a brief period of his career, in which complex professional and personal issues intersect.
Based on a script by the late, great Troy Kennedy Martin (1932-2009 – writer of The Italian Job, 1969; BBC TV series Z Cars, 1962 and Edge of Darkness, 1985), Mann’s film covers four months in 1957 building up to a particularly tough race, the Mille Miglia, the route for which covers 1 000 miles of open country roads.
Alongside the considerable challenges and demands of the race itself, the personal life of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) is nothing if not complex. His marriage to business-savvy Laura Garello Ferrari (Penélope Cruz) is on the rocks thanks to the death from muscular dystrophy in 1956 of their son Dino aged 24. As they both struggle in their different ways to come to terms with the bereavement process, with each of them having a huge stake in and loyalty to the Ferrari business, it’s possible that Laura could block some of her husband’s plans and bring Enzo’s whole enterprise crashing down at any moment.
To make matters much more complicated, Enzo has, to all intents and purposes, a second family thanks to his liaison with Lina Lardi (Shailiene Woodley). Where he grieves for his much-loved, late son by Laura, he delights in his very much alive son by Lina: Piero, aged 12. Where his relationship with Laura has reached a very dark place, there is by way of contrast a great deal of light in his relationship with Lina. All of this in Catholic Italy, where divorce is not an acceptable social option.
Michael Mann (Collateral, 2004; The Last of the Mohicans, 1992; Manhunter, 1986) is a director whose attention to detail is legendary. In this instance, the production is soaked in his obsessive, meticulous research. Everything on the screen about the Ferrari company, the cars and the racing feels real, a vision which extends out to the various town and country aspects of the localised Italian backdrop and Ferrari’s various professional and personal relationships. You find yourself caught up as much in the complexities of the man’s personal life as you do in the Ferrari company’s struggle to survive and go forward as a business and the attempts by Enzo and the various members of his racing team to win the Mille Miglia in the face of fierce competition.
Mann’s thorough preparation and direction washes over into the work of his cast and crew, who are clearly energised into seeing his vision reach the screen as perfectly as it can. The drama and characters are extremely complex and multi-layered, and the performers rise to the challenge. Adam Driver is terrific as Enzo, although the cast’s strongest asset proves to be Penélope Cruz, who delivers a career best performance. As to the crew, you can feel production designer Maria Djurkovic, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt and editor Pietro Scalia being both pushed by Mann and striving of their own accord to deliver something very special.
In the world of cinema, Michael Mann is a true master; watching him direct this remarkable film, you feel from the outset you’re in very safe hands. A truly extraordinary piece of work, and while the fact of its being a Sky Cinema production will mean many will watch this on the small screen at home, it cries out to be seen on the biggest cinema screen you can find while audiences have the opportunity to see it that way. In short, a magnificent piece of work: a rare treat.
Ferrari is out in cinemas in the UK on Tuesday, December 26th.