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Ferrari (2023) Review

Michael Mann’s career has been filled with stylish, exciting dives into gender roles and the dangers of ambition; maybe that’s why this newest film feels like such a culmination for his career. It details a specific moment in Enzo Ferrari’s life: as he approached the decade anniversary of his young son’s untimely death, while the many secrets he kept from his wife were starting to prompt unavoidable confrontations, the retired racer also found his company in danger of failing. To save his legacy and his company, he chose to dedicate his racing team to winning the Mille Miglia, an intense race across Italy’s vast landscapes. Such a premise sets the stage for Mann to do what he’s always done and, as you can even tell in the trailer, the results are stunning. Many would argue the experienced director is firing on all cylinders with this latest offering, but I’d argue he reaches even higher than past achievements. For the first time in Mann’s storied filmography, we really see the gut wrenching fallout that happens when patriarchal delusions shatter.

            The writing sets this up well, letting us know from the opening sequence that Enzo is a man who’s walked a fine line for years of his life—and that line is about to vanish. His mistress, Lina, demands that he finally decide whether their son is to take his name for an upcoming baptism. Meanwhile, his wife, Laura, seems to be at her breaking point juggling Enzo’s infidelities with his awful financial decisions for a business she helps keep afloat. As tensions slowly crank higher, we see these cracks expand, leading viewers toward the film’s apocalyptic climax. When Laura screams that Enzo should have kept his promise to save their son, forcing him to admit he’d made a promise that was impossible to keep, I feel like we’re given a window into Mann’s aesthetic and intellectual project which has spanned almost a half-century. “The father deluded himself,” he shouts back with tears in his eyes, “the great engineer.” This is a man being confronted with his own powerlessness and having no answer. It’s a shattering moment that makes even more impact thanks to some fantastic acting.

            Penelope Cruz is thunderous in her role as Laura. She not only spans the entire spectrum of human emotion, but does so with a commitment that’s almost scary to watch. I’m interested in the discussions that are surely going to be had about how the depiction of Laura fits with other women who populate Mann’s filmography; she definitely has agency, and isn’t afraid to exercise it, but ultimately seems driven by her traditional Italian views of what a woman’s role in a marriage is. At the film’s end, as Enzo’s being crucified by the press, she once again reverts to being his rock, encouraging him to ‘go kick their ass.’ Cruz’s powerhouse acting is counterbalanced by Adam Driver’s cool, calm take on the titular character. I don’t mean to say Driver’s performance is aloof or empty; he manages to convey huge emotions like grief, loss and desperation with the smallest change in facial expressions. This collected disposition makes it all the more captivating when he finally opens up, showing us the extent of his heartache. Along with the acting, the visuals here do a great job of capturing thematic echoes from the script.


            Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt never moves the camera unless he absolutely has to, making for a film that’s as efficiently shot as it is paced (perhaps a habit from shooting with infamously meticulous David Fincher). He does a wonderful job of composing the images in this film, using shadow and color to give small windows into a character’s emotional and psychological state. This is particularly effective in the racing scenes, where the candy red of the cars stands stark against the muted grays of postwar-Italy’s streets. In these scenes, Pietro Scalia’s editing is masterful, using quick cuts to make it feel as if we’re in the race ourselves.

            Mann’s exploration of what it means to be masculine in a world that constantly demands growth, improvement, profit, has never felt more personal than it does in this movie. In an era where biopics are becoming a kind of epidemic, he’s managed to make one that feels intimate yet grand, insightfully fresh yet familiar. Ferrari releases on Christmas day, and I hope you get to see it on the big screen! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!



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