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Adam Driver portrays the Italian car manufacturer in ‘Ferrari’


When we add in Michael Mann’s decades and finest hours as a filmmaker, it’s clear that the Chicago native has done a lot for us in every possible way. Nightscapes of “Thief”, “Heat” and “Collateral”. The antiseptic booth paranoia of “The Insider.” Digital breakthroughs were already ready before our eyes in “Ali” and “Miami Vice”. His directorial elegance, tinged with violence and a kind of rapturous loneliness, is entirely his. And his latest film, “Ferrari,” Mann, now 80, completes his long-gestating portrait of Italian automaker Enzo Ferrari.

Parts of it are first class; Some parts are routine. Adam Driver delivers a dutiful, cautious but uncertain performance on the heels of his last high-profile Italian return as Ferrari. Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci.” Some biopics are overly concerned with turning their leads into physical counterparts of their subjects (for example, Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in “Vice”). This is one of the ways to go. Another is the “oh whatever” route, relying on performance persuasion and a little less latex. In the Mann world, the latter option was preferred due to Johnny Depp’s somewhat similar resemblance to the real, albeit rougher-looking, John Dillinger in “Public Enemies.” Or the fact that Driver bears no resemblance to the real Ferrari in “Ferrari,” age-wise or otherwise.

The story of late screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin (Martin died in 2009) focuses on the Ferrari crisis of 1957, when the auto legend and former racer was about to go bankrupt. Free. Overextended. His young longtime girlfriend (Shailene Woodley, disappointingly flat in the two-dimensional department) and her publicly unrecognizable pre-teen son (Giuseppe Festinese) are in a villa; long-suffering wife and business partner Laura Ferrari (Penélope Cruz, the film’s MVP) seething and frowning in the eyes of another. Laura knows very well her husband’s excessive flirtatiousness; Not so Enzo’s expertly compartmentalized secret life and his son.

Between struggling to make money outside, opera trips and trysts in between, “Ferrari” continues the terrifying Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) motor race over Italy’s winding, mountainous roads, terrifying narrow streets and in all weather conditions. A win could save Ferrari and company under pressure. This is where Mann and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, paradoxically, relax and have fun, shooting mostly in practical (non-effects-focused) ways along beautiful stretches of road. They strap cameras to Ferrari beauties, as movies have been doing for a century. Mann’s film is at its visual peak, reveling in near-abstract images of rain-soaked tarmac and headlights cutting across the night sky.

Wordless passages provide relief from clumsy dialogue with a vague mix of humor and non-humor. “You know the rule!” Cruz’s Laura says she will cheat on Enzo early. “You must be here before the maid comes with the morning coffee – that was the deal!” It’s actually a pretty good line, but it contradicts the serious statements the movie often makes. Ferrari at one point told his team that great drivers like the Maserati team had a “cruel emptiness” in their stomachs. (This would have sounded better with Italian subtitles.) In 1957, the married Ferrari couple were grieving deeply for their son Dino, who had died of Duchenne muscular dystrophy the year before. Laura tells Enzo that since this painful loss, she has had to settle for less and less from her husband, mostly his “ambition, his drive, his conspiracy, his paranoia.”

Adam Driver in a scene as Enzo Ferrari "Ferrari."

Cruz is exceptionally good throughout; she mobilizes Laura’s anger, sadness, and disdain for her situation (and the car company’s finances) in every scene. Even disposable bits register; In fact, the film’s most tense confrontation comes down to Cruz’s impatience with the faulty ballpoint pen given to him by a wily bank teller. But Driver, who has been so effective in recent years, does not suggest much ambition, drive and intrigue. or paranoia. She is looking for a man who must maintain his public image even in his private life. And that’s not enough for the movie. Master editor Pietro Scalia errs slightly here by allowing many of Driver’s surly verbal replies to linger on the screen for a second or two too long before moving on to Cruz or Patrick Dempsey (as Taruffi, Enzo’s longtime friend and driver). He might have done it. or Lina, Woodley’s mistress, who met Ferrari in the waning, brutal days of World War II.

So: mixed bag. But I wouldn’t mind seeing “Ferrari” again sometime just for Cruz and some of the most pleasing examples of Mann’s classic Hollywood technique. The movie doesn’t reinvent the wheels. But he sure knows how to film them.

“Ferrari” – 2.5 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for some violent/graphic images, sexual content and language)

Running time: 2:11

How to watch: Premieres in theaters December 25

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.


excitement @phillipstribune


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