If you’re familiar with the oft-mythologized story of Enzo Ferrari, there are a few things you’ll know about the man. He rarely left Modena, the small Italian town he called home, after he and his wife Laura founded Scuderia Ferrari. He ran the most iconic race team in the world from the comfort of his home, office, or workshop. His greatest dramas were of the more domestic type, featuring financial concerns, a long-running affair, and an Italian public as eager to demonize him as praise him. He operated firmly in the realm of the mind game as opposed to physical imposition. What made Ferrari interesting were his cars and his drivers — and while Michael Mann’s new biopic, Ferrari, is a comfortably authentic retelling of three months of Enzo’s life, it doesn’t make the most compelling film for anyone expecting an action-packed race car flick.
During the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend, I had a chance to attend a free screening of Ferrari at the Wynn. In the past few weeks, I’ve worked my way through two ponderous autobiographical tomes about the man in question — Brock Yates’ Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine and Enzo Ferrari by Luca del Monte — so I was keen on seeing how the biopic would stack up to the real thing.
If you’re expecting a fast-paced drama loaded with car chases and crashes, you’ll likely be disappointed. Ferrari follows Enzo and his race team during a few months in 1957 where we tackle several different storylines: His mistress Lina Lardi and bastard son Piero; his complex relationship with wife Laura, who is essentially the brains behind the team’s finances and who resents her husband for the death of their son Dino; the running of the 1957 Mille Miglia; and Ferrari’s potential spiral into bankruptcy. While there are certainly scenes of fast cars and racing action, this is primarily a film about running a family business and all the domestic and financial drama that entails.
But if you know the story of Enzo Ferrari, you’ll know that this is a far more authentic version of his life than would be any race-focused thriller. At his core, Enzo Ferrari was a weird little guy. He was a man of habit, starting each morning by getting a haircut and visiting the tomb of his son Dino — details that are shown in full in Mann’s film. He had a penchant for pitting his drivers against one another, ruling over local media with an iron fist, and treating everyone around him as if they were disposable tools on his way to motorsport fame. He had a very specific way he intended to do business, and that is exactly the way Enzo Ferrari conducted himself. This movie is a fairly authentic homage to the man known as Il Commendatore and his strange life.
If you’ve been on social media after the release of the Ferrari trailer, then you’ve likely seen criticism of the CGI cars and their over-the-top crashes — but, again, the cars aren’t really the focal point of this movie, nor is any of the racing; they’re just means to an end when it comes to the Scuderia’s success as a business. At its core, this movie is about what it takes for Enzo Ferrari to keep his business alive in 1957, and racing is just one component of a complex web that involves placating his grieving wife who has just learned about her husband’s secret family, navigating the illegitimacy of his son Piero, running out of money, finding ways to sell the business to Ford or Fiat, and balancing the egos of La Squadra Primavera, the so-called “spring team” that consisted of the drivers Enzo seemingly “adopted” after the death of his son Dino. It’s a movie about the psyche of a man who expected you to sacrifice everything so his company could survive, no matter who you were. And it’s a damn good portrayal.
Ferrari will be officially released in theaters on Christmas Day of 2023, and I know that I’m deeply excited to see it again, if only to soothe that part of my soul that absolutely adores historic motorsport. A more general audience may not fully understand the context of the film and might even be disappointed in a lack of automotive action, but if you’re prepared to watch a film that dives into the mind of one of racing’s weirdest guys, then you’ll be in for a treat.