Dec 22, 2023
Troy Kennedy Martina, Brock Yates
Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz
My first worry as I watched Michael Mann’s long-awaited return to the screen, Ferrari, was triggered by a line delivered by Enzo Ferrari’s (Adam Driver) mother (Daniela Piperno). In recalling the death of her eldest child, she muses, “The wrong son died.”
There is, of course, no more clichéd way to begin a biopic. Just ask Walk Hard. But Mann, working from a 30-year-old by script the late Troy Kennedy Martina and Brock Yates, veers from formula immediately after that bit of dialog. His approach does not always work, but buoyed by a few remarkable performances, he recreates a compelling piece of history.
Though Driver’s accent is sometimes questionable, he sidesteps cliché in every scene. His Enzo Ferrari is a singular man, driven and emotionally careful but quietly compassionate and endlessly human. The performance is soulful and delightfully humorous, and he makes even the script’s most convenient or obligatory dialog feel authentic.
He’s got nothing on Penélope Cruz, though, who’s a solid contender for an Oscar nomination in the role of Enzo’s wife and business partner, Laura. Moody, funny, but more than anything, worn thin by years of grief and anger, Laura is a character unlike any other in this film or most any other. Cruz dials the drama back just when you’d expect an eruption, erupts at surprising moments, and refuses to make Laura Ferrari a cartoon or a villain.
With these performances at the center of the film and the specter of death in both the rear view and the headlights, Ferrari delivers an emotionally charged adventure. The real possibility of disaster – within the family, within the business, and on the racetrack – is a current running through every scene.
Mann captures the thrill and dread inside that danger with a restless camera and visceral racing action. Thanks to commitment to the human drama, the action never feels glossy or superficial – thrill for thrill’s sake. Mann’s latest embraces the compromise and corrosion that accompany success. It feels less stylish than a Michael Mann film, but more human.