The Movie Waffler New to Sky Cinema - FERRARI | The Movie Waffler

New to Sky Cinema - FERRARI

New to Sky Cinema - FERRARI
In 1957, Enzo Ferrari juggles family issues with preparing for the Mille Miglia race.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Mann

Starring: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey, Jack O'Connell, Sarah Gadon, Gabriel Leone

Ferrari poster

Among the many nuggets of wisdom offered by Italian motor mogul Enzo Ferrari in Michael Mann's biopic are "Two objects cannot occupy the same space" and "Things that work better tend to also look better." Ironically it's advice that Mann fails to heed. Working from a dusty 2009 script by the late Troy Kennedy Martin (screenwriter of Bank Holiday classics The Italian Job and Kelly's Heroes), Mann has delivered a film that can't pin down what exactly it wants to say about its subject, or even which aspect of his life it's concerned with.

A soapy domestic drama struggles to occupy the same space as a sports movie. The marriage of Enzo (Adam Driver) and his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz) is running out of gas. Enzo spends more time with his younger mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley) than with his wife. Laura knows her husband cheats, but what she doesn't know is that he has a young son with Lina, a boy named Piero who looks like the sort of Mediterranean moppet who would have his hair ruffled by a pot-bellied grandpa in a frozen pizza commercial. With Enzo and Laura's only son Dino having passed away, Piero stands to inherit the Ferrari fortune, if Enzo acquiesces to Lina's wishes to have their son confirmed as a Ferrari.

Ferrari review

There's potential for all sorts of Machiavellian chicanery with this subplot, but Mann never leans into the setup's campy potential. He can't seem to realise that his Enzo and Laura are JR and Sue Ellen. Even their arguments are boring, which is saying something for an Italian couple. When a character utters the line "The wrong son died," we're left to wonder if Mann understands how clichéd his film really is, and if he has ever watched any other biopics.

It's suggested that Enzo is more concerned with his motor-racing team than his personal life. I wish Mann felt the same way, as this aspect of Enzo's life should be tailor made for the director. On paper at least, Enzo should be the classic Mann protagonist: an obsessive man with grey hair (Mann's fetish for silver foxes is up there with Tarantino's love of women's feet). But Mann and Driver never bring Enzo to life. He's like a stiff tailor's dummy wheeled in and out of scenes, occasionally delivering a trite Enzo-ism but mostly reading from a script that resembles a series of curriculum vitaes in how much of it is dedicated to spelling out the achievements of the various men Enzo encounters. Every time a new character pops up Enzo will say something like "Ah, Lucio, didn't you win the Gran Bellisimo in 1955 for Matarazi?" Ferrari is a film that insists on telling us what every character drives, but fails to show us what drives them.

Ferrari review

As a sports movie it's a dud because Mann isn't really interested in making a sports movie, rather a film about a man who runs a sports team. The climactic race, the Mille Miglia, could have been a set-piece for the ages if Mann cared about the winners and losers. With Mann's failure to communicate the details of the race we never know where any of the cars are in relation to one another, so any potential drama that could be mined from the event is voided (I'm also very confused as to how Enzo always manages to stay ahead of a bunch of men driving the world's fastest land vehicles).

When Tarantino scored a hit with 2009's Inglorious Basterds, several cultural commentators surmised that the film had put a nail in the coffin of Hollywood's tradition of having Europeans played by English speaking actors. Yet here we are two decades later with the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Driver playing some of the continent's most famous sons. It's difficult to watch Ferrari and not be reminded of Ridley Scott's House of Gucci with its non-Italian cast Parma-hamming it up in a Mediterranean cousin of stage Oirish. How do we even judge the performances when everyone is essentially miscast? Driver certainly looks the part, but he speaks like Dracula on heroin. Cruz is similarly somnambulistic, though in her defence she's saddled with a character who is little more than a walking scowl. Woodley is laughably miscast and seems to give up attempting an accent at several points. Ironically, the accents make so much of the dialogue so incomprehensible that if you're watching at home you may well end up resorting to subtitles. At time of writing, the biggest hit in the western world is the Japanese blockbuster Godzilla Minus One, which would suggest that audiences aren't anywhere near as subtitle averse as Hollywood believes.

Ferrari review

As you would expect from a Michael Mann movie, Ferrari at least looks good. There are individual shots in the racing sequences that truly convey the insanity of driving a rocket on a road. A late tragedy is rendered in the shockingly gory fashion of a Final Destination set-piece, reminding us how under-valued human life was as recently as the mid 20th century. But you can't polish a turd. If it works better it looks better. The reverse is rarely true.

Ferrari is on Sky Cinema now.

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