Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari in Michael Mann’s Ferrari/Photo courtesy of PR

Taut and suspenseful, Michael Mann’s Ferrari centers on a brief, critical time in Enzo Ferrari’s life, when both his personal and professional lives were in crisis. The film benefits from this close focus, the intensity a parallel to the sport of racing to which Ferrari devoted his life, and in which a fraction of a second can make all the difference between winning and losing, life and death. Adam Driver delivers a searing performance in his portrayal of a man who has built an empire, his controlled demeanor an act of powerful will, concealing the fire within. Mann’s film conveys the thrill of racing, always shadowed by death.

Ferrari began his career as a race car driver, participating in the Grand Prix with several wins. An opening interlude of grainy black and white newsreels of races, with an ecstatic younger looking Adam Driver at the wheel evokes these beginnings. Ferrari founded his factory in 1947, selling sleek, fast, upscale cars to clients such as King Hussein of Jordan to finance his race team. For Ferrari, racing – and winning – were everything. Yet the film meets Ferrari at a time when he was struggling, as his factory was not making and selling enough cars to support the costs of racing.

At this time, Ferrari had also suffered the greatest personal loss of his life, the death of his son Dino in 1956 of muscular dystrophy. Both Ferrari and his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz) are still deeply grieving Dino’s death. Their marriage is on rocky terrain as well, and both Driver and Cruz express the complex nuances of a relationship in which the partners know one another so well, there is an intimacy that prevails when love has faded, and a connection fueled by fury. Cruz as Laura looks haunted and ravaged, yet occasionally revealing the spark that must have attracted Ferrari years ago. Having lost her only child, knowing that Ferrari is having affairs, her only outlet for her rage and grief is the control she wields over Enzo, because of her share in the factory.

The film paints a portrait of life in Modena at that time, when divorce was still illegal, and there is a sense of connection throughout the community – everyone goes to mass, and almost every family has at least one member who works in the auto industry. Ferrari enjoys high stature in the community, hailed everywhere as “Commendatore.” Because she is a woman, Laura’s role is very circumscribed, while Enzo enjoys the freedoms accorded to a man at that time in history. Ferrari had a second household with his mistress Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), and together they had a child, Piero (who today serves as the Vice chairman of Ferrari). Both women in Ferrari’s life were constricted by the rule of the church and the judgement of the community, dependent on Ferrari. Lina is depicted as having a loving relationship with Ferrari, yet concerned for her son, whom Ferrari had not publicly acknowledged as his own. Woodley shades her portrayal of Lina with a reluctant acceptance, she is a woman trying to make the best of a life, that, in hindsight, she wishes perhaps she had chosen differently.

To continue racing, Ferrari must find an outside investor so that the factory can expand. The way to attract an investor is by winning a major race – the Mille Miglia, an open-road endurance race. The racing scenes shimmer with the allure of speed. Yet the sense of danger and risk of death is omni-present. Talking to his drivers, Ferrari refers to racing as “our deadly passion,” pushing them to do everything in their power to win, even at the cost of their lives. It is a risk that the drivers themselves accept, writing preparatory parting letters to their loved ones before a race, in the knowledge that they may not survive. The drivers are a colorful crew – the eager young Spaniard Alfonso De Portago (Gabriel Leone) who stalks Ferrari, hoping to drive for his team; the witty Brit Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell), and the silver-haired veteran driver Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey) – their presence bringing brightness to this rather dark film. Yet as we see the drivers gather together for lunch with Ferrari, laughing and teasing one another, it is all the more horrific to realize that for him they are a means to an end – winning. Mann’s Ferrari offers insight to the man and his world, yet he remains an enigma.


Director: Michael Mann; Screenplay: Troy Kennedy Martin; Cinematography: Eric Merrerschmidt; Editor: Pietro Scalia; Music: Daniel Pemberton; Cast: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Sarah Gadon, Gabriel Leone, Jack O’Connell, Patrick Dempsey, Michele Savoia, Erik Haugen, Giuseppe Bonifati