Monday, October 16, 2023


Ferrari (2023) - Mann Ferrari Rubber, metal and mayhem ensue in Michael Mann's biopic Ferrari. Gone is his digital experimentation (Miami Vice, Public Enemies and Black Hat), but the testosterone level remains high and stoic manliness remains. Plus, it has Penelope Cruz chewing up every scene she is in as Laura Ferrari.

After almost comical monochrome footage of old car racing with Adam Driver's face grafted on them with old timey music and everything, the film settles on 1957 and silver haired Enzo Ferrari (Driver) is seen gently sneaking out of the idyllic villa he shares with his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley) and their young son. Unbeknownst his fiery wife Laura (Cruz), who shares the ownership of the company, Enzo has been living a double life.

In Moderna, a quaint small town that hosts powerhouse custom sports car companies like Ferrari and its rival Maserati, where the local priest preaches in car metaphors, the times are changing. These local prides are having financial difficulties. For Enzo, it's all about craftsmanship and racing. But the company's finance in red, unless he and Laura goes on partnering with bigger companies, like Ford or Fiat, and mass produce, the company will go out of business.

Having lost his son to illness, the Ferraris' marriage has gone cold. Mann, based on the late Troy Kennedy Martin's script, presents both funny and revealing moments with Enzo and Laura visiting the grave of their son separately, back-to-back, to mourn the dead alone. Enzo talks to his dead son. Laura smiles in silence. But being a former racecar driver himself, Enzo's focus is always on racing and forming a winning team in the future races. After losing one of his drivers in a terrifying accident during a test run, he gives a chance to a young gun, Portago (Gabriel Leone). Enzo, addressed as commendatore by the locals, is seen as cold, uncaring man who only cares about winning.

Back then, racecar drivers are as popular as movie stars, every boy wants to be them and every girl wants to date them. Portago and many of Ferrari drivers are followed everywhere by adoring fans and paparazzi and subject of gossipy magazines. It's the danger where a millisecond decision-making can mean life or gruesome death that enthralls the spectators. It may also have to do with custom made, curvy, phallic shaped, sleek red cars they drive. Enzo instructs everyone to write a letter to the loved ones and leave them in their hotel room before every race, as it is customary to the profession.

Adam Driver, whose physiognomy could go either appropriate or not depending on the project, is convincing as a man in his late 50s, if he doesn't remind you too much of his old man skit from SNL. Driver portrays Ferrari's swagger and arrogance naturally and amiably. But it's Penelope Cruz who steals the show whenever she's on screen. Her Laura is a gun wielding firebrand who doesn't back down from anyone and anything. There is a great scene where Laura agrees to hand over her part of the ownership of the company, in order for Enzo to negotiate the possible partnership with bigger companies. Under one condition, she says. She wants her handgun back, which she'd fired on him before for his infidelity. After a brief tense moment, they smile at each other and proceed to tear each other's clothes off. It's that Laura he married long ago and Cruz embodies her with gusto. Shailene Woodley plays Lina with earnest. She is the proto-feminist type who doesn't want to stay behind the doors as a mistress forever. It's her soft feature that contrasts Cruz's angles. Patrick Dempsey shows up as Piero, a seasoned silver fox of the Ferrari team, who ends up winning the race.

The horrifying accident scene in the beginning presages what's to come as the Ferrari team prepares for the grueling, more than a thousand miles open road race, Mille Miglia, that encompasses Rome, Bologna, Florence, Parma and others. The route goes through densely populated cities, snaking roads up in the mountains and small rural towns alike with thousands of spectators on the side of the road. Stakes are very high, so is the danger. Mann, with his team of drivers, along with stunt coordinators, provides spectacular experience and unapologetically graphic mayhem.

Compared with his foray into digital technology over the years, Ferrari feels much more sumptuous. With production design and period costumes - men in dark suits and glasses, it resembles Godfather - especially with the opera and church scenes. But it's the racing scenes that are pure Mann - with tight close-ups and shaky camera; the speed and tension presented on screen are palpable. It's all about craftsmanship, on both counts - the filmmaker and the subject he portrays.

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