Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Michael Mann
scr Troy Kennedy Martin
prd Michael Mann, PJ van Sandwijk, Marie Savare, John Lesher, Thomas Hayslip
with Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey, Gabriel Leone, Sarah Gadon, Jack O'Connell, Daniela Piperno, Giuseppe Festinese, Michele Savoia, Brett Smrz, Andrea Dolente
release It 14.Dec.23,
US 25.Dec.23, UK 26.Dec.23
23/Italy STX 2h10

cruz woodley dempsey
london film fest

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Expert filmmaking brings this automotive pioneer biopic to life, as director Michael Mann maintains period authenticity with first-rate artistry on all levels. And because screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin takes such an internalised approach, there's a powerful pull in the way these drivers willingly risk their lives to race. So while the personal drama feels a bit sudsy, and the accented English-language dialog somewhat arch, the film remains riveting.
In 1957 Italy, Enzo Ferrari (Driver) is facing the collapse of his company if he can't find a financial partner. He and wife Laura (Cruz) are grieving the death of their son, so Enzo is determined that Laura never finds out about his mistress Lina (Woodley), with whom he has young son Piero (Festinese). As hot new driver Alfonso (Leone) joins team Ferrari, they are preparing for a pivotal Mille Miglia event that may determine the company's future. But because she owns half of the company, Laura wants to make sure she remains in control.
Expressively shot by Erik Messerschmidt and astutely edited by Pietro Scalia, the film positively purrs. Driving sequences have a terrific rumble, even as much of the film feels hushed. And a horrific crash is rendered in a heart-stopping but matter-of-fact way. Through everything, the film focuses on Enzo meticulously juggling the personal and professional. And he's distracted from all sides, as Laura sulks, Lina yearns and his drivers try to remain the best in the world amid threats from Ferrari's equally cash-strapped rival Maserati.

Issues of casting and accented English dialog aside, Driver finds terrific depth in Enzo's desire to do everything in the best way possible. His precise approach is skilfully played, and creates terrific chemistry with Cruz, who is on fire as the equally observant Laura. Woodley finds much softer complexity as Lina, while the various men who orbit around Enzo offer plenty of lively humour and spark, with Leone a standout as the preening, loving-his-life Alfonso.

The period's specific issues limit the film's resonance. Because divorce was illegal in Italy until 1975, Enzo had little choice but to remain married to Laura, waiting until her death to recognise his son as heir. And there were astonishingly few safety regulations in the 1950s, so drivers understood they could die at any moment. By contrast, the nine spectators who perished in Guidizzolo never saw it coming. So the film touches us in the way these people push the limits of their situation, changing the world in the process.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 23.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall