My Car Quest

July 12, 2024

Film Review: Ferrari

Review by Wallace Wyss –

Racing movies are difficult to sell to a big audience. The guys are there to see the wheel to wheel action. The women are there because they usually want to see a love story (the woman behind the man, etc, ). I have to say the new Michael Mann film, Ferrari, based on a book by former Car & Driver writer Brock Yates, successfully combines both but it’s still an ordeal to watch, not light hearted at any time like Ford v. Ferrari, the last well known car movie.

That’s because the couple in the film, Enzo Ferrari and his wife Laura, dominate the movie. Laura is not only the wife but the business partner and midway through the movie, which takes place in 1957, she finds out about her husband’s mistress and the boy (Piero) Enzo had fathered with her.

This is not a full bio; rather a section of time focusing on that time period in ’57 when he prepares for his team running the Mille Miglia, a 1000-mile run through the city streets and byroads of Italy. What makes this race so crucial for Ferrari is that his firm needed publicity to get more road car sales. Investors wanted to see less money spent on racing and more on production cars. All through the film, Enzo is seen saying he lives only for racing success, but, behind the scene, he is shown doing plenty of maneuvering to line up a buyer for the passenger car side of his operation so he can still run the racing part.

Ferrari the movie

The role of Enzo is played by Adam Driver who does a superb job. His wife Laura is played by Penelope Cruz who also turns in a stellar performance as a scheming vengeful wife. The mistress played by Shailene Woodley, is not so convincing and in real life she had no lever in him compared to the wife. It is dark and moody film right from the beginning, where Ford v. Ferrari had its light and humorous moments.

One of my first criticisms, which they never explain to the audience, is what the race is—a 1,000 mile race not on a racetrack but through the streets and country lanes of Italy. The time period selected is a crucial one where Enzo, if he could beat Maserati, could dominate racing in Italy.

Enzo battles not only other automakers but the two women in his life. One confrontation mid-film reveals his wife finding out about his mistress and the child, Piero, that Enzo had with her. His wife, played to the max as a cunning tigress uses her financial hold on him to try to banish the mistress. The mistress’ goal is more narrow–to use his last name, Ferrari, for her son but since divorce was illegal in Italy, Enzo says no and in real life Piero Lardi was an engineer at Ferrari who wasn’t able to use the Ferrari name until his father died. Laura uses her financial stake to exact some concessions from Enzo over the financing of the firm.

Enzo tells the world he wants to run Ferrari himself as primarily a race car builder but, behind the scenes, he is seen jockeying to sell the passenger side of the operation to Fiat or Ford. That plot point set off a red warning light to me, the author of three books on Shelby and GT40s. Those negotiations with Ford occurred in ’63. My question is–would they have been starting negotiations as early as ’57? In one case Enzo tells a reporter to plant a story of an impending sale, then denies it when the story breaks, so he is portrayed as a master manipulator. He is also shown telling each of his drivers in the Mille Miglia individually he expects him to win, pushing his drivers beyond caution.

The racing scenes are sufficient for a balanced film (though of course enthusiasts want more), easily 20 minutes–including the controversial scene where a race car hits an object in the road, has a blowout and careens into local villagers with several fatalities. I can’t fault the preparation of Ferrari’s race cars, as the press seems to want to do immediately as much as it is the poor route of the race—it’s impossible, realistically and financially, to fence in 1000 miles of road. The cars simply go off the makeshift course at speed with any mishap, with much peril to spectators.

Driver puts in a believable performance as the brooding car builder. Penelope Cruz, though in films previously she was the glamor queen, puts in an even better performance as his scowling sourpuss estranged wife. Shailene Woodley, playing his mistress does a good job but you know she has no clout. The actor playing Taruffi, the real life racer/actor Patrick Dempsey, is convincing, but overall the drivers don’t get much attention in what is essentially a family drama.

Why is the film so dark and moody? I think that goes back to Michael Mann’s obsession that “art films” always have lots of shadows so he burdens the audience with a lot of nearly dark rooms so it will be recognized as an “art film.”

Some early reviews described the carnage depicted as beyond the pale, particularly in the Mille Miglia accident—I expected more but suspect once the movie was about to go into release Mann took note of that and toned it down (there remains a shot of a driver’s body cut in two…)

By contrast, in Ford v. Ferrari when Ken Miles is killed testing, they show the accident from afar and show no carnage. But I warn male enthusiasts who are planning to take their wife or girlfriend to the film, it is largely dark and moody, with no relief with comedic sequences as in Ford v. Ferrari.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE REVIEWER: Wallace Wyss – a biographer of Carroll Shelby, is currently looking for an agent for his action thriller novel Ferrari Hunters.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Ferrari the movie

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Film Review: Ferrari
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Film Review: Ferrari
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Racing movies are difficult to sell to a big audience but this one, Ferrari, should do well.
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Comments

  1. Well done Wally. Totally agree. On a 1 to 10 scale I’d give the movie Ferrari a 7.
    Have a great 2024!
    Buddy Pepp

  2. Excellent review, not sure if Ferrari had some inkling that Ford might have been interested as he had gifted Henry Ford the 2nd the 212 Barchetta lending some notion that there might have been some earlier interest from Ford…
    Agree the movie is dark and yet the insight to what Ferrari might have been like in those days was pretty interesting… The use of mostly correct period Italian cars (many Lancia’s) was inspired in the background of scenes and sure to delight hard core enthusiasts…

  3. WALLACE WYSS says

    Yeah Jim that present of a complete Ferrari in ’53 must have cost Enzo a lot since he probably was making less than 90 cars a year. i think he was hoping the Deuce (US nickname for HFII) would be so popular driving a Ferrari that he would just have to buy Ferrari bui it took him a long time to respond..

  4. Glenn Krasner says

    Wallace,
    Terrific detailed review of the film. Unfortunately, since I am constantly immersed in reading about cars, I very rarely see any racing or car films. “Ford vs. Ferrari” is constantly on cable, but I have not seen it and have no interest in doing so. That being said, I doubt they even showed the scenario that inspired HFII to try to buy Ferrari. HFII was at a European auto race with HIS Italian mistress, and she saw all the Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches, and Mercedes driving by, but no Fords, and said to him/asked to him why Ford didn’t make racing cars like that.
    As far as racing movies, my favorite is “Le Mans” with Steve McQueen, which I have seen a few times. What I even enjoy more is the documentary done by his son, Chad, on the making of that film, “Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans”. Now, THAT is an interesting film – I’ve seen that one about 15 times!!?
    Thank you again for the movie review – I always enjoy your great articles on cars, and also about your adventures in auto advertising in the 1960s and 1970s.
    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  5. Great review Wallace and I concur. Just saw the movie last night. Seeing the cars was icing on the cake for me, but very much enjoyed the back story of what Ferrari’s life was like as not only a businessman and producer of some of the most beautiful and iconic cars in the world, but also seeing his personal life and all of the drama that entailed with his wife and the mistress as well. Both Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz did a terrific job IMO…the acting by the mistress less riveting. I too found the use of the more pedestrian cars in the background and as transportation for Laura Ferrari and for Enzo himself to be excellent. I wasn’t sure what car Enzo used….I saw the number “304” in believe on the front of the hood in one scene on the car he used. The car did not have the identifiable Alfa or Lancia grill that I noted. What I found also interesting is that he did not drive one of his own Ferrari production cars, but instead used a small sedan to get around. Thus while a tour de force as a person, he also exercised great modesty and was not “flashy”. In any event, I enjoyed the movie a lot overall and it is worthwhile seeing IMO.

    • The green car Ferrari was driving was a Peugeot 304

      • Thank you Jim. I was thinking that based on the number on the hood, but when I googled Peugeot 304, the photos were of a different, and likely newer, model. Thank you for the clarification!

        • Admittedly i was a bit surprised that his wife was driven around in an Alfa and he was driving a French made car… Mind you the use of the amazing cars in the street scenes and on the road were Fiats Alfa’s and Lancia’s and an impressive collection of those… in one scene one of the Alfa’s was a later model than 1957 but close enough probably…

          • Rob M Krantz says

            It is interesting to see all of the very modest cars driven at the time, most likely as cars were much smaller and fuel efficient in Europe and that it was still a post WWII recovery time frame in Europe. I was surprised that Ferrari drove a Peugeot vs. an Italian made car, and particularly, not one of his high performance cars. I guess he liked to keep a low profile.

  6. WALLACE WYSS says

    The development of the ’55 T-bird figures in here somewhere. HFII might have been figuring “if we do a two seater sports car we don’t need Ferrari.” I used to have a Pininfarina glossy PR print that showed a ’55 style T-bird done by Pininfarina. Lost it so it’s my word against the more meticulous historians. At any rate even with a V8, the steel body made it a dog against any Ferrari. I don’t think HFII ever took his Ferrari round a track at speed so he never knew what they had missed.

  7. Mike Clarke says

    I thought the movie was well made and the acting was excellent. Michael Mann’s mistake was narrowing the timeframe of the movie around the 57 Mille Miglia race. IMO they should have extended the timeline ending with the palace revolt. The palace revolt had a lot to do with de Portago’s death, and Ferrari’s dominating wife. Expanding the timeline would have allowed Mann to film the race scenes on different tracks, delivering much more excitement. As most of you know the Mille Miglia is a long distance endurance race held on two lane roads. This type of race does not allow the director to build the speed, crowds, danger and excitement of the racing like you could on a track. Hence the film’s race scene’s are a bit dull and in some instances hokey. Ferrari the man and the cars are so interesting, it’s a shame we only got to see this narrow dark slice of his life.

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