A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Playing in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Michael Mann’s Ferrari is a hefty period piece that takes us deep into the world of one of the most iconic names in motorsport. A silver-haired Adam Driver plays Enzo Ferrari, who together with his wife Laura (a fiery Penélope Cruz) started the famed Italian automobile company in 1947.


The film takes place a decade later, after Ferrari has given up racing and his business is haemorrhaging money. He’s also a philanderer, his long-suffering wife barely tolerating his frequent infidelities.

Eight years on from Mann’s last film, the cyber-thriller Blackhat, Ferrari is a long-gestating project from the acclaimed director of Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans and Heat.

If anything points to this, it’s that the script is written by the Scottish scribe Troy Kennedy Martin, who adapted Brock Yates’ definitive 1991 biography Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine. Kennedy Martin, who famously wrote The Italian Job and BBC TV classic Edge of Darkness, died in 2009.

An ex-racing driver, Ferrari is shown here as ruthless and unsentimental, as seen in an early moment where one of his drivers is killed in an accident on the track. Without blinking, he recruits an ambitious young racer, Alfonso De Portago (Gabriel Leone), who has been pestering him for a job.

Really, the film is a snapshot of Ferrari as he builds towards throwing his team into the Mille Miglia, an open-road endurance race that saw drivers compete on a circuit that loops between Brescia and Rome.

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While Mann takes pleasure in detailing the visceral thrills of the sport – the sound design, as engines roar, truly purrs – it’s Ferrari’s relationship with Laura that leads the race. A year earlier, in 1956, they lost their boy Dino to illness.

Without her knowledge, Ferrari has sired another son, Piero, with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), a woman he’s secretly installed in a property outside of Modena. The Catholic boy’s confirmation is coming, and his mother wants to know if he will take the surname ‘Ferrari’ or not. But with Laura owning half the business, and negotiations ongoing to save the company, any such personal revelations could lead to total implosion.

With English the predominant language spoken here, all of the main cast adopt Italian accents, which takes some getting used to. Driver has already been there with Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, when he played Maurizio Gucci, part of the famed Italian fashion clan.

Here, although his accent holds, he’s on more muted form – and you may be left wishing Mann had chosen an Italian native for the role. Cruz, however, is sensational, tearing up the screen as the slighted woman all too aware that their downfall is of their own making. “This is God’s way of punishing us,” she says.

For a director who is known for his compelling portrayals of masculinity, it’s pleasing to see Mann paying attention to the female characters. Woodley’s mistress sees another great performance, though it's a pity that Sarah Gadon is rather shortchanged in the role of Linda Christian, the famed actress who takes up with De Portago.

Likewise, British star Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) flits in and out as fellow driver Peter Collins. Still, Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, a renowned auto fan, looks comfortable behind the wheel as Italian racing driver Piero Taruffi.

While Ferrari doesn’t stack up alongside Mann’s finest work – a near impossible task anyway, you might think – there is at least one jaw-dropping set-piece here that’ll be talked about for years, as well as smaller moments of real humanity (like the delight on a child’s face when he’s handed a half-eaten banana from one of the racing stars).

In the end, it’s best seen not as a sports drama, but a portrait of a man at breaking point, personally and professionally, and what it takes to get him back on track.

Ferrari will be released in UK cinemas on 26th December ahead of launching on Sky Cinema in 2024. Read more of our Film coverage, or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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