According to Ferrari folklore, founder Enzo Ferrari once said that when you ask a child to draw a car, they will draw it red. Any devout tifoso knows all too well that Ferrari is more than just a race-car brand — it’s a borderline religion. Such is its power that its name is synonymous with speed. It’s something that Michael Mann’s Ferrari captures to blistering effect in its early minutes. The eponymous engineer and former racer (played by Adam Driver) sits in a church, listening to holy scripture; meanwhile, another religion is introduced, as the film whips back and forth between the sermon and a racetrack, which is alive with the sound of a Ferrari hurtling around the circuit.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the rest of Ferrari isn’t so divine. Mann’s biopic arrives after a 20-year-long wait, and yet the result is frustratingly monotonous in ways that betray its namesake. Driver is back on House Of Gucci accent mode as the eponymous moto-innovator, who splits time between his deteriorating company, his collapsing marriage to Laura Ferrari (Penélope Cruz, brilliant if underused) and his relationship with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley). Perhaps it was necessary to delve into Ferrari’s family drama, but any time the film returns to tired domestic squabbles, it screeches to a grinding halt.
Where Ferrari gets it right, you feel it down to your bones.
Certainly, there are interesting threads that could have done with being pulled further. As much as Ferrari (the man) is regarded as something of a mortal god, he’s also a harbinger of death. Developing the fastest cars in the world doesn’t happen without sacrifice — namely, the drivers risking their lives for Ferrari’s beautiful, deadly machines. And yet, Driver’s performance is confusingly restrained, lacking some of the charisma or intrigue that would make you believe that anyone would be willing to race so recklessly for him.
Where Ferrari gets it right, you feel it down to your bones. When the company’s troupe of drivers hop into those famous red cars for the Mille Miglia, a 1,000-mile endurance race, Mann places us right in the cockpit, each roadster speeding round bustling street corners and down lightning-fast open roads. It’s equally fascinating to watch the mechanics of motorsport in its relative infancy, when pitstops lasted longer and the routes were far more treacherous. Like the films that have come before it, Ferrari reaffirms that racing has always had a cinematic quality to it: exhilarating to watch, but brutal, too. It’s in these moments that Ferrari thrums to life, maximising its power like a full-throttle engine. It’s just a shame that there isn’t enough of it.