Michael Mann devoted himself from the outset of his career to filming action movies, a genre that not even the most bovine or the supposedly enlightened dare now to underestimate. Masters such as Hawks and Walsh dedicated most of their work to him. In Thief (1981) and Manhunter (1986, the first screen appearance of the brilliant and disturbing Hannibal Lecter), Mann displayed narrative talent and a powerful visual style to tell multifaceted stories. He then produced three masterpieces of adventure, film noir and thriller. Succinctly, of cinema: The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Heat (1995) and The Insider (1999). Collateral and Public Enemies did not reach the same heights, but they were still very attractive movies. Mann’s films fell naturally into the category of classics. The artistry he demonstrated in those films is enduring, even though he has been disappointing for quite a few years now, making movies where it is hard to discern his powerful stamp.
In Ferrari, Mann moves to Italy in the late 1950s to dive into the tormented existence of a man who touched the sky as a racing driver, automobile entrepreneur, director of a legendary racing team, competitor of the all-powerful Agnelli family, and many other things too numerous to list.
And probably that gentleman is among the legends for a reason, but Mann’s portrait of him and his universe is rough, with little power of fascination. It attempts trying to portray the internal volcano of a man who is apparently resolute, a perfectionist, the manager of a big business with bankruptcy issues, as sparing in gestures as in words (the conveniently aged Adam Driver, who plays Enzo Ferrari, doesn’t crack a single smile throughout the film), who knows that success is fundamental to his survival and is consequently obsessed by it, trying to reconcile his relationships with his wife, his mistress and the son he had with the latter, while carrying an inconsolable grief for the death of the son he had in wedlock.
But something fails to click, either in the description of the life of such an unsympathetic character, or in the portrayal of his always-tense professional career. Being a complete ignoramus when it comes to cars, I also glean little enjoyment from the thrilling races in which companies and drivers stake so much, including life in the case of those who compete. I am distanced throughout the film from the tortured, intimate world of this complex individual, but the travails and exploits that occur in his professional sphere also fail to excite me.
You sense Mann’s wisdom with the camera, but what he narrates leaves me cold. Driver, an actor who seems to be in every major film project currently being shot in the United States, is conveniently made-up to look 20 years older than he is. His character must be heartbroken and living in a permanent state of anguish, but I felt myself always observing him from a distance. His wife, played with personality by Penélope Cruz, also has a terrible time of it, but I find her more relatable than the dour, introverted Ferrari. You always have to follow in the footsteps of a director as intelligent as Mann, but hopefully he’ll recover his old magic soon. The wait is becoming a long one.
Director: Michael Mann.
Cast: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Jack O'Connell, Patrick Dempsey.
Genre: Drama. United States, 2023.
Runtime: 130 minutes.
U.S. release date: December 25, 2023.
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