Ferrari review: Weak script and dodgy accents leave biopic stuck in first gear

Drama about Enzo Ferrari, founder of the Italian sports car brand, suffers from wooden lines and a soap opera-style plot

Adam Driver plays Enzo Ferrari. Photo: Moto Pictures
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Michael Mann has been working on Ferrari for 23 years.

The celebrated director became obsessed with making a movie about Enzo Ferrari, founder of the celebrated sports car and motor racing team, after reading Brock Yates’s 1991 biography on him.

Since then, Mann – creator of hits such as Thief, Heat and The Last of the Mohicans – turned down low offers from studios because he thought they were too paltry, cast Christian Bale as Ferrari, only for him to pull out because he didn’t want to gain weight, and replaced him with Hugh Jackman. But even the X-Men star eventually dropped out.

When Mann finally secured the hefty budget he desired for the sports biopic, he brought in Adam Driver to portray Ferrari. The script from Troy Kennedy Martin, who died in 2009, focuses on a specific few weeks of Ferrari’s life in the summer of 1957.

During this period, Ferrari is still reeling from the death of his son. Meanwhile, his 34-year marriage to Laura (Penelope Cruz) is deteriorating rapidly, which is further complicated by the fact that she is his business partner at Ferrari.

Ferrari decides that to avoid Ferrari’s impending bankruptcy, the team has to win the Mille Miglia, a 1,600km endurance road race from Brescia to Rome and back again. Ferrari pushes his gang of racers, Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone), Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell) and Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey), to the limit to ensure their competitiveness, but this only puts their lives more at risk.

However, despite its roster of big-name actors, a storied brand and an experienced director at the helm, Ferrari is a flawed movie.

Mann has so much information he wants to pack in that it becomes hard to track what’s important to the narrative and what’s just being presented as context and characterisation.

The film isn’t helped in this regard by the fact that Driver, Cruz and Shailene Woodley, who plays Enzo’s mistress and is the mother of his secret second son, Piero, aren’t Italian. Their accents are occasionally very distracting from the dialogue, especially Woodley who seemingly ceases even trying at stages. The script itself does include great passages and quips, but there are also plenty of wooden lines that are snigger-inducing.

At first, Driver appears to have been severely miscast as a character 20 years his senior. His slicked-back hair and elongated forehead draw all the attention, particularly as there’s a quiet cool and seriousness to Ferrari. The longer the movie goes on, the more Driver grows into the role and by its conclusion he has truly transformed into the character.

Cruz is the complete opposite of Laura. As soon as she strolls on screen, she embodies the still-mourning mother. Any time she’s in a scene, audiences can't be sure what’s going to happen next, as she goes from being kind and vulnerable to unhinged and furious.

Cruz’s powerful portrayal helps to paper over the cracks of Ferrari’s plotting problems. For its opening two-thirds, there’s very little racing, as Ferrari zips from one problem to another, pushing each of them back with the hope that he’ll be saved by the Mille Miglia. There’s a soap opera feel to the stories, too, which is only exacerbated by Daniel Pemberton’s overwrought score.


Director: Michael Mann

Starring: Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey

Rating: 3/5

Despite these issues, Ferrari is always engaging. Mann’s incessant eye for detail means he filmed in many gorgeous locations where Ferrari lived and worked, the style and clothes shine and there are two arguments where Driver and Cruz are remarkably electric.

Then, when the Mille Miglia finally begins, Ferrari finds an extra gear, as Mann expertly shoots these action sequences, while twisting and turning them in unexpected ways.

Ultimately, Ferrari is far from perfect. But there are plenty of cinematic flourishes to remind viewers why Mann is such a renowned and beloved director. If it just so happens to be his final film at the age of 80, it’s a fitting enough farewell.

Ferrari is now showing across the UAE

Updated: January 06, 2024, 8:47 AM

Director: Michael Mann

Starring: Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey

Rating: 3/5