In “Ferrari,” Adam Driver looms like a colossus as Enzo Ferrari. Driver is tall and rangy, but he looks even bigger here — wider, too — partly because Enzo wears boxy suits with linebacker shoulders so broad they nearly scrape the edges of the frame. The most famous man in Italy aside from the Pope, Enzo makes blood-red racecars with sexy curves and supercharged engines. The Commendatore, as he’s called, looks more like a tank. He seems an ideal vehicle for Michael Mann, a filmmaker with his own line of beautiful obsessions.
Set largely in 1957, the movie “Ferrari” focuses on an especially catastrophic year in Enzo’s convoluted life. He makes some of the most coveted cars in the world: There’s a king impatiently waiting in Enzo’s office not long after the story takes off. (That royal personage, who’s short, is anxious that, this time, his feet will reach the pedals easily.) All the world wants something from Ferrari, who in turn seems to care only about his racecars, ravishing red beasts that roar out of his factory near his home in Modena and into the world’s fastest, most lethally dangerous races, where records, machines and bodies are routinely broken.
What makes those cars and Ferrari run permeates the movie, which opens with the young Enzo (Driver) behind the wheel, racing and all but flying. The jaunty, propulsive jazz on the soundtrack give the scene inviting charm (you’re ready to jump in Enzo’s car, too), as does the smile that spreads across his face. It’s one of the few times he cracks one. Soon after, the story downshifts to an older Commendatore, now gray and imperial and facing bankruptcy as he struggles both with work and two households with two very different women. One greets him on an especially angry morning by firing a gun at him, which does get his attention.
Death stalks Enzo and this movie, which energetically gathers momentum even as Mann busily juggles the story’s numerous parts and warring dualisms. Written by Troy Kennedy Martin, the film is based on Brock Yates’s cleareyed 1991 biography “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine,” if only in strategic part. (Martin also wrote the original, car-centric caper film “The Italian Job.”) While the book traces its subject (and brand) from cradle to beyond the grave, the movie condenses the auto maker’s life into a brief, emblematic period and a series of dramatic oppositions, including two sons, one living and one dead, as well as the road cars that Enzo sells and the racecars that are his life’s passion.
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