Director: Michael Mann
Screenwriters: Troy Kennedy Martin
Starring: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Sarah Gadon, Gabriel Leone, Jack O’Connell, Patrick Dempsey
2023 was the year of the biopic, with films like Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and Cristopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer aiming to shed light on their respective controversial and fascinating historical figures. Michael Mann’s decades-in-the-making Ferrari has sought to do the same, combining an established director with an A-list cast and on-location filming, but as a biopic it simply doesn’t work.
Set in 1957, Ferrari follows motorsport magnate Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) as he prepares the Ferrari racing team – made up of Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey), Wolfgang von Trips (Wyatt Carnell), Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell), and the newest addition Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone) – for the legendary Mille Miglia, a motorsport race lasting one thousand miles. Ferrari, the company, is about to go bankrupt, which mirrors a personal crisis for the founder of the racing team as his estranged wife Laura (Penélope Cruz), who owns half of Ferrari’s shares, finds out about his affair with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley).
The key issue with this story is that most of the characters are not thoroughly explored. This is especially true for the race car drivers, which makes it difficult to care about the actual races they take part in or understand their stakes, but this is also true of Enzo himself, whose entire past before 1957 is barely touched upon. By the time the film starts, Enzo’s brand is already built, and his attention is divided between his work at Ferrari and his family’s struggles. Filmmaker Michael Mann’s attention is divided too, the film failing to find an appropriate balance between Enzo the entrepreneur and his complicated personal relationships, leaving us lacking in reasons to care about either.
Much like Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, also starring Adam Driver, Ferrari takes its Italian setting as an invitation to populate its runtime with cringe-inducing Italian stereotypes. Mann’s film portrays Italians as reckless drivers, particularly attached to their mothers, and very impulsive and irrational. Mann isn’t alone in using these stereotypes, and like many filmmakers before him does little to evolve or deconstruct them.
Earlier this year, the debate around casting American actors to play Italian characters was reigned by Pierfrancesco Favino’s comments denouncing that an Italian story is almost exclusively told through American voices in this film. This would not necessarily be an issue if it had been done well. Ferrari feels less of an inclusion of the Italian context of the story and more of an appropriation of a culture the film does not quite grasp – the unnecessary, over-the-top, fake Italian accents most of the actors take on undoubtedly do not help as they only draw attention to the artificiality of the film and seem to ridicule and simplify an entire nation and language. This is even more evident as Ferrari is not the only film ever made on Enzo Ferrari – in 2003, Carlo Carlei directed his own version, an Italian production with Italian actors that touches on the very beginning of Enzo Ferrari’s rise to fame and speaks a lot more to the historical context he moved in, which is a particularly relevant page in Italian history. That film acts as a juxtaposition to this one, faithfully re-telling of this significant 20th century figure while Ferrari offers us very little opportunity to understand who Enzo Ferrari truly is.
While the stereotypes used by Mann and company are less-than-ideal, there are elements of the filmmaking that do faithfully capture the lives of Italians, and specifically those like Enzo Ferrari. In this film, the motorsport entrepreneur is engrossed in specifically Italian culture, attending the opera, understanding the importance of the Catholic Church, and of course having an obsession with sports. The latter is of the greatest importance here, and Ferrari never shies away from portraying the dangers involved, one particular car crash sequence exemplifying this film’s biggest qualities: its powerful visuals and exceptional sound design.
While undeniably well made from a visual and technical perspective, Ferrari is not a good biographical sports film. It might prove enjoyable for some people, especially for those familiar with the subject matter, but this latest Michael Mann effort fails to do the very thing it is supposed to do: inform us of Enzo Ferrari himself. At the end of the movie, we know very little – and care even less – about Enzo Ferrari or the legacy he created.
Written by Clotilde Chinnici
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