‘Ferrari’ Review: Penélope Cruz Dominates Michael Mann’s Biopic
The Big Picture
- Ferrari transcends the traditional biopic, offering an introspective ook at Enzo Ferrari’s life, making it both heartbreaking and delightful.
- The film captures the dangerous and addictive nature of racing, with remarkable scenes on the racetrack that showcase the excitement and risks racers face.
- Penelope Cruz delivers a powerhouse performance as Laura Ferrari, commanding every scene she’s in and possibly delivering the best performance of her career.
Before the climactic 1957 Mille Miglia race near the end of Michael Mann’s Ferrari, the company’s racing team each leaves letters to their loved ones in case they don’t make it through the finish line. Earlier on in the film, Adam Driver’s Enzo Ferrari tells these same racers that they should be willing to die to win for the Ferrari brand, and as a former racer himself, the company’s owner calls racing a “terrible joy.” Throughout Ferrari, Mann and the script by the late Troy Kennedy Martin (1969’s The Italian Job), frequently equate racing to war—which makes sense considering Italy and its people are still reckoning with the pains of World War II. The Ferrari family is still grieving the losses of their past, the choices that were made, and the understanding that they’ll never be the same again. By making Ferrari less of a sports film and more of an introspective look at the car creator, Mann has ended up making a fantastic war film, and his best work since 2004’s Collateral.
Set in the summer of 1957, with Enzo Ferrari’s auto empire in crisis, the ex-racer turned entrepreneur pushes himself and his drivers to the edge as they launch into the Mille Miglia, a treacherous 1,000-mile race across Italy.
- Release Date
- December 25, 2023
- Michael Mann
- Shailene Woodley, Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Cruz
- 130 minutes
- Biography, Drama, History
What Is ‘Ferrari’ About?
Ferrari begins with its title character leaving the bed of Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), whom he met during the war and has a child with. Ferrari rolls his car out of the driveway, in order to not wake them up, before speeding back home to his wife, Laura Ferrari (Penélope Cruz), who is furious and before long, is shooting a gun at her husband. After this, Enzo starts every day going to the mausoleum to see his son Dino, who died a year before. He admits that he hears ghosts: his father, friends, and family—they stay in his head at all times. From there, Enzo states, “I go to deal with today.”
Primarily, this means trying to keep Ferrari afloat. The company isn’t building enough cars, and he needs outside finance or they’re going to go out of business. While Ferrari complains that his rivals—particularly Maserati—only want to race to sell cars, as a former driver, that’s where Ferrari’s passion lies, saying that he sells cars to race. Enzo’s goal is to win the Mille Miglia with his racing team which includes Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone), Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell), and Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey). With Enzo’s business in trouble, his racing prospects questionable, and him being torn between Lina and Laura, Ferrari captures a period of Enzo’s life that is integral not only on a personal level but to the world of racing and cars in general.
Mann mostly keeps Ferrari off the racetrack, but when he does get behind the wheel, the results are remarkable. The Mille Miglia is captured with all the lunacy and surprises that show how dangerous this undertaking truly is. Racers crash, then hop into other people’s cars, abandoning their wreckage; thousands of people gather and wait around blind corners, waiting for a glimpse of the race; and the entirety of Italy seems to stand still for this massive competition. This race also includes one of the most harrowing and shocking sequences in Mann’s filmography and shows the horrifying risk that these racers accept every time they get into their cars. Mann excels here in making us understand just how exciting and addictive racing can be, before pulling the rug out from under us to show us how badly it truly can get.
‘Ferrari’ Is at Its Best Off the Race Track
Yet Ferrari is even more compelling when dealing with Enzo and his loves: Lina, whom he wants to be with and wants to give her son his name, and Laura, who is both brilliant, terrifying, and whom he’s still at least somewhat passionate about. Woodley as Lina has the unfortunate task of playing the more caring, less dynamic one of these loves, but she does the best with what she’s given—despite the occasional dropping of the accent altogether. Driver is quite good as Ferrari, able to play heartbroken one moment, then controlling and powerful the next. At times, Mann frames him from behind, with his gray hair and presence that can’t help but remind of Robert De Niro in Heat. Driver is playing to his strengths here, and it’s easy to see parts of his Marriage Story, House of Gucci, and even his Girls performances within his Enzo Ferrari.
But the true powerhouse of Ferrari is Penélope Cruz, who commands every single scene she’s in. She’s electric to watch, and even when the film is enamored with the big race, the audience wants to be back with her on the sidelines. Cruz’s Laura Ferrari is a whirlwind of grief, righteous anger, jealousy, and absolute power. No matter how much power Enzo has, Laura knows how to wield her influence. She is the true mastermind behind keeping the company afloat, even when her actions might seem shocking. Cruz’s performance isn’t just the highlight of Mann’s film, it’s also possibly the best performance of her career.
Michael Mann Is Able to Transcend Bland Biopics With ‘Ferrari’
By another filmmaker, Ferrari could’ve been a fairly straightforward biopic, but the ways that Mann reflects on the past—without focusing too much on it in a direct way—makes Ferrari more than just a by-the-numbers look at Enzo’s life. For example, in one scene that takes place at an opera house, we reflect on the wartime past of Enzo, Laura, and Lina. For Enzo and Lina, we understand how just destruction and pain could easily lead to their love. For Laura, we see just how much she’s lost, as she reflects on her happy but simple life with Enzo and Dino. The joy of the sequence reminds us that this is what Laura is fighting to get back to, but also what she’s mourning having lost. It’s understanding that the past defines who we become that makes Mann and Martin’s film so effective.
From the gorgeous cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt, the mesmerizing Daniel Pemberton score, a towering performance by Cruz, and Martin’s screenplay that reflects as much on Enzo’s insular battles as well as his public ones in equal measure, Ferrari is one of Mann’s best film in years. Ferrari isn’t just an impactful look at grief, it’s also Mann having a hell of a lot of fun. Ferrari constantly shows us the highs and lows of every day, and how we must take the good with the band, and Mann does that by making this both heartbreaking and delightful in equal measure. In the end, Mann gives us a film that feels like a terrible joy.
Ferrari comes to theaters on December 25.
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