“Racing is a great mania to which one must sacrifice everything, without reticence, without hesitation”. This statement from Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the illustrious car company bearing his name, is the essence of why motorsport looks great on camera. It’s thrilling, seemingly without limits, and always with personal, interwoven stories of triumph and failure waiting round every turn. And no company are as synonymous with racing as Ferrari, who trigger a feverish loyalty in their dedicated tifosi that rivals anything else on earth. That fire, that momentous and volcanic energy, is almost nowhere to be seen in Michael Mann’s biopic. Ferrari really puts its foot down when it wants to, but otherwise feels far too happy turning the wheel in a stately fashion unbefitting of the name. 

Courtesy of Neon

The film follows Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver, continuing his House of Gucci Italian phase) as he fights battles on and off the track. Asides longing for victories in races, he also has a crumbling business to attend to. Furthermore, his marriage to Laura (Penélope Cruz), who also owns half of the company,  is on the rocks. Enzo is trying his best to hide a secret from her; a son, the child of Ferrari and his mistress Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley). With everything on the line, he enters five cars into the 1957 Mille Miglia, a near 1000-mile race across Italy, with eyes set squarely on victory. 

It makes perfect sense why Driver would be chosen for the titular role. Ferrari has been described as an egocentric, focused and dogmatic kind of man. It should be the kind of part that Driver can just fall into, as he has done with other steely, mildly arrogant characters in the past. To an extent he succeeds, but he cannot capture Ferrari’s emotion or charisma. The result is a strangely, flat, heavy performance that conjures all of the old man’s ruthlessness but not really any of his heart or charisma, for which he was at least as well known. 

Cruz, however, is phenomenal. She brings tangible rage and power to Mrs Ferrari, as if twisting a knife in her back is winding her up like a clockwork doll. And when she goes off (rightly so, under the circumstances), she is a sight to behold. Driver physically towers over her, but Cruz makes her enigmatic husband look so small and pathetic by comparison. Wearing a near constant expression of pain, frustration, and unnerving grit, Cruz unleashes a ragged unpredictability in Laura. She brings some much-needed suspense to an otherwise fairly mundane relationship drama by leaving you in constant anticipation of what might be about to unfold.

Courtesy of Neon

This fear is happily matched by the racing sequences. Anyone hoping for the low angle twists and turns of Rush (2013) will be disappointed, but Mann throws you into the cockpit to bring out the full thrill of the chase. The sound in particular, capturing every mechanical roar and grimace, is nirvana for racing fans and petrolheads alike, while the dynamic cinematography helps you to feel like you are on the track with the drivers. When things take a tragic turn, Mann does not shy away from the brutality and the stark reminder of how lacking in basic safety mid-20th century motoracing was. This eventful, impactful finale result is Ferrari’s high point, even if it feels like a crescendo rather than the constant, driving symphony that you know the director of Heat and Public Enemies is more than capable of. 

This is Ferrari’s ultimate let down. Because when it isn’t focusing on the racing – when it spends time away from drawing out the feverish, religious dedication with which Enzo approaches his professional life – Mann’s film becomes a marriage story lacking any real urgency. The era is lavishly realised, with sets, locations, and costumes finding a great balance between glamour and grubby. Yet the result too often feels like a Ferrari without an engine; all show, no go. The pacing is far too pedestrian, and for too long the stakes feel too low. The story of Ferrari is in many ways the story of motorsport itself. But Mann struggles to convince you that this is about more than just one unfaithful man and his wheels. Some nice action sequences and a stand-out performance from Cruz aside, Ferrari barely makes it off the starting grid. Which is a shame, because at its brief, wonderful best, it can be a sight to behold. 

Ferrari is out in cinemas now.