Ferrari: Adam Driver shines in title role of Michael Mann’s slick motor-racing biopic

FERRARI (PG)

Director: Michael Mann (Heat)

Starring: Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey.

Rating: ****

One man, one race and one extraordinary car

If the life of legendary Italian car impresario Enzo Ferrari was a motor race, then the engrossing new movie which bears his (brand)name takes in only one lap of the circuit.

It is certainly not a victory lap. And it is by no means the fastest lap.

However, it is the most crucial lap completed during the Ferrari life story: the distance of which will take in the calendar year of 1957.

If Enzo Ferrari (played with fastidious poise and restraint by an impressive Adam Driver) does not end that year as the head of a viable car manufacturing company, then everything he has worked for will be pulled off the road and stripped for parts.

With his business teetering on the edge of ruin – too few cars are being sold to the public, and too few races are being won on the track – Ferrari takes out an audacious, make-or-break bet.

His immediate livelihood and ongoing legacy will all come down to the performance of his team in one event of the 1957 season: a notoriously dangerous, all-day road race across Italy known as the Mille Miglia.

Ferrari’s best drivers and fastest cars are assembled and unleashed upon the unpredictably twisting, turning and undulating roads of rural Italia.

It is virtually guaranteed that not all men or machines gathered at the start of the Mille Miglia will be there at the finish.

This was an era where the death of a driver in the pursuit of championship glory was deemed acceptable collateral damage by both team owners and the general public alike.

As for the cars, these open-topped chariots offered little in the way of protection for those steering them. Seat belts were not an option. (At the time, it was believed a driver stood more chance of surviving a wreck if he was thrown clear of the wreckage.)

As for the brakes, gears, tyres or structural soundness, let’s just say each component could come, go and return at a moment’s notice.

Whether the action is taking place on a test circuit, a racetrack or the open road, any sequence in which a four-wheeled Ferrari creation is barrelling along at high speed is an incredibly exciting, imposing and rather stressful experience.

To provide some necessary contrast – and for that matter, relief – Ferrari the movie studiously fills in some of the blanks of Ferrari the man.

Enzo’s long-neglected wife Laura (a stunning Penelope Cruz) couldn’t care less about her spouse’s exalted status as “the second most famous man in Italy to the Pope”. She is too busy keeping their business afloat, keeping their household going, and keeping the memory of their recently deceased son alive for another day.

Shortly after we first meet Laura, she pulls a gun on her husband for a relatively minor misdemeanour. Just wait until she finds out about the mistress (Shailene Woodley) and young child that Enzo has been hiding away for well over a decade.

This polished and captivating portrait of Enzo Ferrari and his sleek red racing works of motorised art is sure to be studied and replayed several times over by devout petrolheads.

While some may feel that acclaimed filmmaker Michael Mann lets a little too much of Enzo’s domestic downtime into frame, these slower moments in a lesser gear make the racing scenes whoosh by with even more power under the hood.

Ferrari is in cinemas now

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT (PG)

***

General release

This proudly old-fashioned true story of a longshot lunge at Olympic gold might seem undeniably corny to the naked eye. However, this remarkable tale will prove irresistibly compelling to anyone whose spiritual sporting calling is to always side with the underdog. Under the straightforward direction of George Clooney (who remains strictly behind the camera here), we learn how Team USA took out one of rowing’s most revered events at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Not with the usual crew of privileged oarsmen from elite colleges who had trained their entire lives to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Nope, America’s Men’s Eight crew was comprised of a bunch of rookies, who just a year before comprised a lowly reserve crew at the University of Washington.

Somehow, these green kids rocketed through the ranks of rowing to challenge and beat the world’s best. It is a singular achievement that is as awesome as it is baffling. To use a cricketing analogy, the victory chronicled here is the equivalent of a suburban second eleven representing Australia at a World Cup and winning the whole darn thing. With so many characters involved in and out of the boat, worthwhile development of most figures is near impossible. Only Joel Edgerton’s nuggety head coach and Callum Turner’s poor-boy raw recruit register with any real impact. However, the open-water racing is surprisingly exciting throughout, allowing Clooney the licence to let this stirring tale of perspiration, deprivation and inspiration pretty much tell itself.

Originally published as With thrills, spills and a brilliant Adam Driver, Michael Mann’s Ferrari is not just for the revheads

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