FERRARI Review: Michael Mann’s Latest Biopic is Stellar

Michael Mann's Ferrari boasts two electrifying lead performances in one of the most suffocating biopics of the year.

Filmmaker Michael Mann depicts the story of Enzo Ferrari in his new biopic, Ferrari. Those who know me know how much I despise Michael Mann’s Ali. In fact, it’s the only movie in his stellar filmography that I initially rejected when I first saw it and soured more when I rewatched it. As much as it is stylistically competent, Mann seems uninterested in peering through the complicated life of Muhammad Ali, both in and outside the ring. The result is an often muddled and overlong movie that doesn’t know what it wants to say and is more flashy style than substance, despite one of Will Smith’s career-best turns. 

When Mann announced that he would finally make Ferrari a reality, my expectations remained in check. Adapting from Brock Yates’ Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine, the film chronicles Enzo Ferrari’s (Adam Driver) quest to win the Mille Miglia in 1957 while grappling with the loss of his son, Dino, and a marriage by name only with his wife, Laura (Penélope Cruz). Enzo has a son with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), in a relationship he attempts to keep secret from Laura. But as Piero’s confirmation is arriving, he is left with the choice of telling Laura or confirming Piero as part of the Lardi family. 

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Like Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, Mann attempts to peer through the lens of public opinion of Enzo Ferrari to examine the man behind the “myth.” But unlike the aforementioned biopics, directed by competent filmmakers who don’t seem interested in examining anything about their monumental (and well-documented) lives, Mann crafts the most psychologically active biopic of the year and one that deftly examines the prison of masculinity through the terrifying allure of Enzo Ferrari. 

One of the most fascinating images arrives a few minutes after the film opens, where Ferrari goes to Church, while we cross-cut to a driver testing out a car on the track. The Priest gives the “Our Father” prayer while Ferrari and his associates (including Laura) look at their stopwatches as the racer tests the car out.

Racing isn’t just a passion for Ferrari – it’s a way of life or, more aptly, a religion. Everything in Ferrari’s life revolves around racing, one way or another. All he wants is to be the best in racing and car design, and if that means going to Church to pray to the almighty God, then it will be a part of his daily ritual. 

Michael Mann Pulls No Punches in Ferrari

It’s also the most scathing indictment of Enzo Ferrari you’ll ever get on film because this scene acts as a catalyst for the events that occur throughout the movie, either from the Mille Miglia itself or his tormented personal life. Enzo actively cheats on Laura and has no remorse for not mentioning the fact that he has another son, while Laura is still mourning the loss of her own. Enzo is not a man that the audience should root for, and even when he sets up a team to win the race, no one in the audience should ever invest in his quest for the top, as the brand of Ferrari hinges upon a win, or else it goes bankrupt. 

Adam Driver Ferrari

There isn’t a single moment where Mann doesn’t make us despise Ferrari, from his attitude toward drivers or in his personal life. One of the most indicative moments of his tone comes when one of his drivers crashes a car to his death, and he doesn’t even flinch. He instead tells aspiring racecar driver Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone) that he should come to his office on Monday, hiring him on the spot. As we know, de Portago suffered the same fate as the driver, killed instantly with his partner at the Mille Miglia in one of racing history’s most terrifying crashes, with the wreck claiming the lives of over nine spectators. 

Racing has always been represented throughout cinema as one of our most exhilarating sports. And who can blame filmmakers like Tony Scott, The Wachowskis, James Mangold, or, more recently, Neill Blomkamp for framing it as a high dose of adrenaline and excitement? It’s such a cinematically spectacular sport that anyone who attempts to make a racing movie usually succeeds. Based on that interpretation, it’s clear that Joseph Kosinski’s upcoming Formula One movie will likely be one of the most spectacular racing productions ever made. 

But Mann doesn’t find racing spectacular or cinematically exhilarating. In fact, he believes strapping a man to his doom in a cramped box as they speed up to unimaginable levels is one of the biggest gambles one can make with one’s life. There isn’t a single moment in Mann’s racing sequences where the sport is treated as exciting – all of the racers here are playing with God, whether they want to or not. In that regard, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt frequently distorts his lens by stretching it to an extreme Vertigo effect, where audiences can see how racers perceive the track and how that perception ultimately tricks them into feeling safe. 

Because of this, Mann pulls no punches in, visually representing car crashes, with the aforementioned de Portago scene a stark reminder of how deadly our obsession with the automobile truly is. One mistake, and it’s over for you and potentially everyone around you. And yet, the most horrifying element in this sequence is seeing how Ferrari isn’t once fazed by the lives lost in this tragedy. All he cares about is who ultimately comes out on top, and Piero’s last name is Ferrari. The rest doesn’t matter, or, in what he would likely think to be the case, is a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of his company. 

Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz are Electrifying in Ferrari

In representing this torment, no one could’ve played Ferrari with the same gaze as Adam Driver. And while his accent is as ridiculous as the one he has in House of Gucci, his performance ultimately morphs into something more believable and psychologically active than the ridiculous Ridley Scott film that was more of a meme than anything else. The only actor who doesn’t have much to do and whose Italian accent is a detriment to their performance is Woodley, who is unfortunately boxed in a series of clichés and formless lines. 

But the real star of the picture is Cruz, who delivers her best performance in years. Seeing her angry and sullen at her husband’s contempt towards her is enough to make you feel for Laura at the deepest level. But when she breaks down in anger in a scene where she unmasks the façade of Ferrari in a far more effective way than Carey Mulligan ever did with Leonard Bernstein in Maestro, it’s not even close.

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The level of emotional power Cruz gives to her performance rivals any contender vying for the Supporting Actress award so far, and it’s a shame she hasn’t gotten the attention she deserved while being overshadowed by actors who starred in poorly-made biopics that weren’t interested in examining “who” was their central figure. 

In Ferrari, Mann is always interested in going beyond the well-documented writings on Ferrari and examining how he is consistently trapped in a cyclical prison of attempting to convey machismo at every turn but failing to support the ones that allegedly matter the most in his life. It may be structurally imperfect, especially in a highly jumbled first half, but once all of the pieces come together.

Ferrari sees Mann at his most electrifying in years, unafraid of making the audience think about not only the man behind the mythic brand of Ferrari but about our collective relationship with the most deadly object of our lives: a car. There is nothing less safe than driving a car, and yet we do it every day without thinking about it…


Ferrari releases in theatres on Christmas Day. Are you looking forward to the movie? What is your favorite Michael Mann picture? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on social media!

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Picture of Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent

Maxance is a freelance film and TV writer, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the University of Montreal, with a specialization in Video Game Studies.