With Adam Driver playing race car driver-turned-sports car entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari, 'Heat' filmmaker Michael Mann adds another masterpiece to his resume.
Sarah Ward
Published on December 22, 2023


Michael Mann makes movies like a man haunted. From his 1981 debut Thief to his latest release Ferrari, it's no wonder that his films linger with viewers. Mann's work whirrs with the pursuit of professional greatness, and with the pressures of balancing that relentlessly revving chase with personal ties and desires — quests and woes that aren't his own in his narratives, but always feel intimate. Heat, 1995's Robert De Niro (Killers of the Flower Moon)- and Al Pacino (Hunters)-led crime-thriller that the filmmaker will forever be known for, has proven a spectacular example for nearly three decades. While the skilled burglar and dogged detective caught in its cat-and-mouse game are both experts in their realms, that doesn't make juggling their on-the-job and at-home realities any easier, cleaner or less chaotic. Using that very notion as its road, Ferrari is clearly the product of the same director. Perhaps Mann is speeding down that exact path after all, then, navigating the complexities of getting a film onto screens — his last was 2015's underseen Blackhat — on a mission to master his favourite themes.

Mann has helmed several model features already in Thief, Heat, The Insider and Collateral, with Ferrari a worthy addition to his resume. Wheels spin on and off the track in the elegantly and exquisitely crafted slice-of-life biopic, many literally but others via its namesake's personal life. Based on Brock Yates' book Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine, as adapted by screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin (the OG The Italian Job) to cover events in the summer of 1957 only, Ferrari is always hurtling — even when it's as patient as cinema in Mann's hands has ever been. The collision between single-minded goals and the messiness of existing constantly gives his pictures urgency, no matter how steady the gaze and stoic the character. And make no mistake, Adam Driver's (65) gravitas-dripping portrayal of race car driver-turned-sports car entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari (and Italian-accented but speaking in English, just as he did in House of Gucci) is as serious and determined as Mann's protagonists get, too.

Sometimes with editor Pietro Scalia (an Academy Award-winner for JFK and Black Hawk Down) crosscutting frenetically like the film is shifting gears up and down, sometimes going for a lengthy drive in Enzo's business exploits and his home affairs separately, Ferrari tracks its protagonist's mission to save his company through racing glory in tandem with steering into his relationships with two women. Duality, a regular Mann obsession, slicks the flick like engine grease; there's two purposes to his car manufacturing, those two loves and two sons, for starters. "Two objects cannot occupy the same point in space at the same moment in time," Enzo explains, but the clashes and contrasts that surround him are hardly as clearcut as physics. Take his approach to death, for instance: over the loss of his son and heir Dino by wife Laura (Penélope Cruz, Official Competition), he seeps heartbreak like he's losing brake fluid, but the idea of tragedy befalling his drivers garners a matter-of-fact reaction, plus a speech about the life-or-death and at-all-costs commitment that his chosen sport requires — and he demands.

In the world of Ferrari as a car outfit, financial struggles have both Enzo and Laura — partners in the business as well as in marriage, albeit barely hanging on in the latter — assessing options to keep their Modena factory running. Royalty might covet their vehicles, but Enzo's passion for his racing fleet is as expensive as it is dangerous. "Jaguar races to sell cars. I sell cars in order to race," is his frank description of Ferrari's manufacturing split. Bringing in outside cash from Ford or Fiat is proposed, enabling the company to increase production on its retail vehicles. The picture's choice of year also puts the last Mille Miglia in front of its windscreen, with victory in the twisty race on Italy's public streets — ideally with one of Enzo's drivers (which include River of Desire's Gabriel Leone, Lady Chatterley's Lover's Jack O'Connell and Thanksgiving's Patrick Dempsey) triumphing over Maserati — likely to help Ferrari continue vrooming.

1957 is also when Enzo's second son Piero (Giuseppe Festinese, Santa Lucia) by his mistress Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley, Dumb Money) is to be confirmed. Installed in a house outside of town, his other family remains a secret from Laura; however, as Lina angles for Enzo to let Piero take his surname and Laura frays with mourning, already well-aware that her husband isn't faithful, there's as much tension there as whenever someone has a car zipping and zooming. As Ferrari flings together melodrama and racing thrills, neither gives the audience an emotional or psychological reprieve. Mann doesn't just want to put his viewers in the film's array of driver's seats, but in a state where there's no escape from the stress — to stay solvent, to win, to avoid tearing Enzo's romances apart and inflicting more pain, and to secure his legacy.

Mann obviously didn't choose Ferrari's pair of biggest stars based on their appropriate names. And Driver wasn't picked for his penchant for living up to that moniker (see: his stint as a poetry-writing bus driver in Paterson, then his time commanding spaceships in the Star Wars sequel trilogy and 65), either. Still, they're sublimely cast. Not just thanks to his silver locks but due to the intensity of his presence, Driver easily passes for a man who's a year off 60 — so, almost 20 years past the actor's own age — while wearing Enzo's iciness like armour, yet still letting his charisma peek through with Lina and Piero. Despite having a supporting part, Cruz has rarely been better than as the achingly furious and piercingly grief-stricken woman who refuses to let her contributions to the Ferrari name and Enzo's fame, and everything their nuptials and son represented, be pushed into the backseat. Given the Spanish talent's career (her Oscar for Vicky Christina Barcelona, nominations that should've been wins for Parallel Mothers and Volver, and her exceptional work in Pain and Glory, All About My Mother and Jamón Jamón as well), that's no minor feat.

Ferrari's immaculate central portrayals are just two of the movie's pistons; Mann's meticulous efforts behind the lens, and at the top of his game again, is merely a third. It'll come as zero surprise to anyone familiar with his filmography that everything is that finely tuned, from the light and shadows imparted by cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (The Killer, and Oscar-anointed for Mank) to Daniel Pemberton's (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) note-perfect score. And when Ferrari gets racing, especially in its centrepiece stretch that stuns and shatters, the heart pumps, nerves are shredded and little else in depicting racing in cinema compares. The only roadblock: the feeling that Mann could've told more of this tale, and about his latest unswerving but divided man, although wanting more of his work simply comes with watching it.


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