Scripted by the late Troy Kennedy Martin (“The Italian Job”) and Brock Yates (a longtime editor of Car & Driver magazine), director Michael Mann’s “dream project” “Ferrari” arrives at Christmastime with Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz and Shailene Woodley and its pedal not quite to the metal. A biopic about the man who founded the legendary Ferrari Grand Prix racing team and the automotive marque in 1947, this film is the second time Driver has been cast in an iconic Italian role after his turn as Maurizio Gucci in Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci.”
My problem with the otherwise highly accomplished and well-acted film is that this is yet another biopic that neglects the thing that made Enzo Ferrari famous. It certainly was not that he cheated on his wife with Lina Lardi (Woodley), who bore him a son after his son Dino with his wife Laura (Cruz) died after a long sickness at age 24.
We do get the races, including the disastrous 1957 Mille Miglia race in which a Ferrari car blows a tire, flies into the crowd along the road in rural Italy, killing nine spectators, five of them children.
But where and when did Ferrari dream up a still popular, hugely expensive street car line that would become the vehicle of choice of royalty around the world? Yes, other marques were popular with rich people. But Ferrari trumped almost all of them by delivering powerful, technologically brilliant engines and curvy-futuristic coachwork that set the standard over and over again. Ferraris were and remain to some degree works of art on four wheels. In one scene, Driver pays lip service to the cars as living sculptures. But that is not enough. Why can’t we see him working with the Pininfarina coach builders? Where did the design ideas come from? Was it sci-fi comic books? Movies? The Ferrari was a large part of Italy’s spiritual recovery from World War II and should be in the Uffizi alongside the works of Botticelli.
Instead, we get some rather routine scenes in which Enzo Ferrari must leave Lardi and their young son Piero (a very good Giuseppe Festinese) yet again to put on a show of unity with Laura. Ferrari’s infidelity makes him like every other rich Italian husband of the 1950s. We hear about how he spends too much money racing and does not make enough money selling cars, even if he has kings as customers.
Cruz dazzles as Laura, especially in a scene in which Laura visits the tomb of her son Dino. With less screen time, Woodley conveys Lina’s sense of unfairness, especially in regard to her son, who cannot have the Ferrari name (he does now and is vice-chairman of Ferrari). But the tug of war between wife and lover does not give Ferrari sufficient drama. In a role arguably calling for a young De Niro or Pacino, Driver is fine, even at times powerful. Director Mann is the artist who delivered “Manhunter,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat” (with De Niro and Pacino), “The Insider” and more. The racing scenes are exciting and suspenseful. But Ferrari is more than racing and cheating. The film never quite satisfies. Where is the vision that made Ferrari great?
(“Ferrari” contains profanity, sexually suggestive scenes, gruesome images and violence)
Rated R. At the Landmark Kendall Square. Grade: B+
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