|Troy Kennedy Martin
|Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey, Jack O’Connell, Gabriel Leone
|January 4, 2024
The films aren’t connected but this new outing from director Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider) serves as an appropriate prequel to James Mangold’s 2019 Oscar-nominated release, Ford v Ferrari. Mangold’s film was set in the first half of the 1960s and centred on the financially strapped Ford Motor Company as they tried to defeat Ferrari at the famous Le Mans race. Mann’s film is set in 1957 and looks at how Ferrari, struggling themselves at the time, first garnered the upper ascendancy.
Drawing from the 1991 non-fiction book of acclaimed racing writer Brock Yates, the movie is centred on company founder Enzo Ferrari (Driver) and balances up his rocky life, both on and off the racetrack. It wasn’t a great time for the business as sales were stagnant and bankruptcy was looming. Following the mantra of “win on Sunday, sell cars on Monday”, his sights were set on winning the prestigious Mille Miglia 24-hour race which would boost the brand and the bottom line.
The racing scenes aren’t too bad (dangerous, old-school cars) but the film is more interested in exploring Enzo’s tumultuous personal life. His marriage to Laura (Cruz) was on the wane and she was looking for a lucrative cash settlement before agreeing to any formal separation. At the same time, Enzo was in a long-term relationship with another woman (Woodley) with whom he had fathered an illegitimate child. They were taken care of via secret, off-the-record payments through the company.
They’re different films with different approaches but I didn’t feel the same passion and engagement here as I did for Ford v Ferrari. Adam Driver (Marriage Story) gives it his best shot as the stoic Enzo but he’s a bit of a dullard and it’s hard to appreciate the reasons for his success. Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) has more to offer as the semi-deranged wife. She feels over-the-top at times but I love the way she uses her power, and she has plenty of it, to maximum effect.
I’m a fan of Michael Mann (The Insider is a masterpiece) but wrestled with his artistic choices here. There’s a sequence at an opera house which tries to provide backstory, but it comes across as awkward and distracting. When it comes to the big racing climax, a brief introductory scene involving a random family (it takes place in a kitchen) is contrived, gratuitous and unnecessary. It’s the sort of stuff that belongs in a B-grade action flick.
I’ll do some more reading about Enzo Ferrari… but that’s because this film only tweaks the curiosity instead of fully satisfying it.