Michael Mann's return to directing is sadly attached to a hopeless script
Michael Mann is a director whose thrillers defined the 1990s and 2000s, from the likes of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Heat (1995) to Collateral (2004). His style, nostalgic of practical effects and muscly plot harkens back rather than reinvents the genre. He’s struggled to imprint his style in his last few films, with Public Enemies (2009) and Blackhat (2015) being narrative and financial flops. His return our screens is with the ambitious Ferrari (2023).
Ferrari takes place in 1957 Italy, where ex-racing driver and car manufacturing magnate Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) is facing financial troubles, hinging his hopes on the Mille Miglia race to save his brand, all while balancing the complicated love triangle between his wife Laura (Penelope Cruz) and his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley).
Mann has sold financiers on his ambitious vision for Ferrari, utilizing gripping practical shots and effects for his racing scenes that will harken viewers to the equally enthralling sequences in the narratively separate Ford v. Ferrari (2019). Mann continues to showcase an ease at crafting thrill and tension in these sequences, yet his entire ambitious affair is let down by a botched script.
Ferrari is written by Troy Kennedy Martin, who previously penned films such as The Italian Job (2003) remake. This is his first screenplay in over a decade, and the rustiness shows. Ferrari is loosely adapted from a book by Brock Yates, yet Kennedy Martin is incapable of pinpointing what exactly he wants to tell viewers about Enzo Ferrari’s life. We get soap opera-level dialogue and the laziest forms of exposition I’ve seen in a film of this caliber. Ferrari takes 40 minutes before the essential plot of the film is even revealed, leaving a full third of the film wandering aimlessly.
Kennedy Martin seems to have crafted his script out a random year in Ferrari’s life. Why not witness the rise of this figure from racer to car emperor? We never get to fully understand Enzo or why the Ferrari cars should be considered feats of engineering. When attempting to prove Enzo’s contributions to Ferrari there are simply empty general statements “make it faster!” that propose his “genius.”
The cast is sadly forced to don the ridiculous Italian accents that made House of Gucci (2021) hard to take seriously. I simply can’t understand why Hollywood insists on having actors put on these satirical foreign accents to indicate their characters are speaking a different language; do they think audiences will not piece it together? With the lack of a fleshed-out script or any form of character depth, Driver can’t salvage much from his character, which remains an enigma throughout. Likewise, there are bizarre casting choices that are completely underused, from Patrick Dempsey and Jack O’Connell as blink-and-you’ll-miss race drivers to Shailene Woodley as an incredibly forgetful mistress. Only Cruz, as Laura Ferrari, salvages a role written as a hysterical Italian woman. Cruz adds a hidden pain and desperation for survival that makes Laura the most interesting character on screen.
Sadly, Ferrari fails to bring any insight or any form of character exploration of Enzo Ferrari. The boggled and flat script hamstrings the crucial narrative elements, leaving the actors helpless and only Mann’s expert hand in the scarce race scenes brings some drive to the film.