December 17, 2023
Michael Mann is back. That statement should end with an exclamation point, but, unfortunately, the famed director’s comeback vehicle (pun intended), Ferrari, doesn’t have the juice for anything more than a ho-hum period. Mann has been away from the cinematic landscape for quite some time, his latest venture being the 2015 studio-overhauled thriller Blackhat. Mann made sure not to make the same mistake twice, accumulating nearly $90 million worth of independent financing for his newest feature, a fact symbolized by the film’s dozens of credited producers, executive producers, associate producers, consultant producers, and co-producers. It’s an admirable move both artistically and professionally that also serves as a depressing illustration of where the studio money is being allocated these days. Then again, I’m not exactly sure where the $90 million fully went, as I only saw about half of it on the screen.
The majority of that half surely went to the cast headlined by Adam Driver as the titular Enzo Ferrari, Penélope Cruz as his wife and business partner Laura, and Shailene Woodley as his mistress, with whom he shares a young illegitimate child. The 40-year-old Driver dons a rather unconvincing wig and forehead lines to play the nearly 60-year-old Ferrari, who has been besieged by tragedy after the double whammy of suddenly losing his young adult son Aflredo to muscular dystrophy last year and his car empire on the verge of financial collapse. Driver is no stranger to playing downtrodden figures, but he’s still very much a stranger to the Italian accent, which gravitates towards the parodic style in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. It’s hard to take an A-lister seriously in a heavy scene when he’s only a few hand gestures away from being a credible cousin to Tony Lip from Green Book.
The answer to Ferrari’s money troubles is to win the 1957 Mille Miglia (translated to Thousand Miles), an incredibly dangerous (at least one fatality occurred for thirty consecutive years, with a total death count near sixty) open-road race that often set the stage for the biggest rivalries in sports racing. Victory would reclaim the prestige the Ferrari brand once had, meaning more sales of luxury cars. Mann works with David Fincher’s now-regular cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to capture the overall sense of violence this race involves. There’s a speech that Enzo gives to his team just before they go out about how “two objects cannot occupy the same point in space at the same moment in time.” It’s a metaphorical way of saying that his drivers need to fight for every inch on the track, even if it means pushing someone out of the way and potentially sending them to their death. It’s just a real shame that the instances of vehicular carnage are made unintentionally hilarious by abysmal uses of visual effects.
There is no clear-cut answer for Enzo’s trouble with Laura and Lina. His affairs with other women were well known by Laura, but the fathering of a child with Lina was kept hidden from her until the boy was twelve. Cruz is fiery and totally convincing next to Driver and Woodley, the latter given a thankless role that mostly involves her folding her arms and waiting for Enzo to come home. And while he’s a distant supporting player compared to this central trio, it would be a sin not to mention the dashing silver fox that is recently crowned People's Sexiest Man Alive Patrick Dempsey. He plays Piero Taruffi, the elder statesman of the Ferrari racing team that also includes Gabriel Leone and Jack O'Connell as the young guns.
Ferrari feels both nothing less and nothing more than a mild disappointment, which somehow feels worse than if it landed on either one of the extreme sides of the spectrum. Mann has already confirmed that Heat 2 will be his next film, with Driver rumored to be part of the cast. Maybe Ferrari was just a warm-up exercise, something to get Mann back in the groove of making large-scale adult dramas? It definitely feels that way, although I’m not sure enough was achieved here to make that crime prequel/sequel the on-paper slam dunk it should be.