By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
Director Michael Mann’s most famous work is arguably Heat, the heist thriller that stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. Heat has gone down as one of the most beloved films of all time, and a highlight in the acclaimed filmographies of both DeNiro and Pacino. Mann is often known for his thrilling, intense, nail-biting stories, but he puts down all of those trademarks in exchange for a deeply personal historical drama with his latest endeavor.
Mann’s latest film Ferrari, opening Christmas Day in the U.S., tells the story of Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the iconic automobile company. Ferrari is centered on its title character, played by Adam Driver (equipped with an accent, wig, and makeup to transform the Indiana-born actor into the Italian entrepreneur), as he attempts to grow his self-named company in the consumer and racing markets, all while being up against a challenging economic market in which his competitors seem to be growing at a far greater pace. The racing and business side of the proceedings are matched in importance by Ferrari’s personal life, in which he has a wife and a mistress (played by Penélope Cruz and Shailene Woodley respectively). Enzo’s marriage is in-part defined by the loss of their son, and irony strikes as Woodley’s character gives birth to a baby boy.
The story of Ferrari is one admittedly that isn’t the most exciting; Mann’s signature thrills come only from a racing sequence that features a disaster for the company. Instead, the film is dominated by board room meetings and frank discussions between Ferrari and the women in his life, and it’s that personal side that is intended to be the hook of the story. Unfortunately, Ferrari struggles to keep one’s attention, burdened by a series of seemingly endless conversations that, by the time they finally conclude, feel as if they’ve added nothing to the story or its characters.
For all of the attempted character work across the lengthy 2+ hour runtime, Ferrari ultimately fails to give viewers a real reason to care about the characters and invest in why this is a story worth telling. They all feel like caricatures rather than actual people, signed off with often comical Italian accents that makes one wonder why Mann opted to cast American performers in these roles to begin with.
Adam Driver largely escapes this criticism, however, as he gives a predictably strong and intense performance. Driver’s Italian accent is believable, despite appearing a little wonky at first, yet the former Star Wars actor certainly grows into the role. He’s worked with countless acclaimed directors in his career thus far, including Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg, and while Ferrari won’t go down as his most effective or entertaining collaboration with an Award-winning filmmaker, Driver elevates an otherwise stale film throughout. He’s one of the best actors working today, and that talent still shows amidst a dull and often lifeless story.
Driver’s performance is helped by the excellent work done by the makeup department to ensure the actor physically transforms into Enzo Ferrari. Despite being 40 years old, the makeup artists’ impressive work means that Driver looks significantly older and more mature than he actually is. Driver trades in his trademark long, dark hair in exchange for a grey, balding appearance, and the behind the scenes work means that the actor can disappear completely into his role.
Ferrari is not Michael Mann’s best work, as the acclaimed director trades his hallmark raw thrills for dry and often boring storytelling. Adam Driver shows his usual presence with a predictably strong performance, and seeing one of the best actors of this generation give yet another impressive turn is perhaps the only reason to see Ferrari.