Penelope Cruz has never been better

Order and chaos vie for pole position in Ferrari, Michael Mann’s energetic biopic of the famed Italian automaker. Creating a multifaceted portrait of a racing legend at a specific moment of personal and professional crisis is the author’s first full-length work since 2015. Black hat buzzes with steely passion and pain. A tale of irreconcilable conflicts and contradictions, it may have briefly fallen prey to the same schisms that plague its protagonist, but thanks to Mann’s deft direction and strong performances from Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz, this adaptation of Brock Yates’ 1991 novel Enzo Ferrari: Man and Machine proves a complex character study of a pioneer caught between his warring instincts.

The final night of this year’s New York Film Festival (opening in theaters December 25). Ferrari sets the tone from the start with a newsreel-style prologue in which young Enzo Ferrari (The Driver) wins a car race, and then a scene in 1957 – 10 years after Ferrari began making cars – in which Enzo drives away from his home, his hands and feet working the car’s pedals and gear shifts with uncanny skill and confidence. Wearing designer suits and trademark sunglasses, his silver hair slicked back for maximum aerodynamics, Enzo is a man of impressive composure. However, this first look shows the tycoon leaving the home he secretly shares with his mistress Lina Lardy (Shailene Woodley), whom he met and fell in love with during World War II, and their young son Pierrot – an early sign that His circumstances are complex (and the road ahead will be far from smooth).

Enzo knows how to build a car, but his life is a much less carefully planned affair, and this becomes clear when he returns to his primary residence to find his wife Laura (Cruz) waiting for him with a gun in her hand. Laura’s rage at Enzo’s infidelity is one of the many proverbial guns held to his head throughout the story. Ferrari, and that’s before Laura even learns of the existence of Lina and Pierrot, the latter of which is an exceptionally sad discovery considering Enzo and Laura are still mourning the untimely death of their only son Alfredo. Yet in Driver’s persona, the automaker keeps the pedal to the metal and charges forward with the brash confidence of a man who not only recognizes his reputation as a “national treasure” but believes in it – and thus thinks he can handle it. with any problem. , be it mechanical, familiar or emotional.

Ferrari opens with Enzo in the midst of disaster: Laura shoots next to his head; his mother (Agnese Brigittini) wants him, not his brother, to die in World War II; his company (which he co-owns with Laura, who handles its accounting) is on the verge of bankruptcy; and rival Maserati threatens to break one of Ferrari’s speed records. Hearing that they have been surpassed, Enzo tells his colleagues that they must reclaim the title “now” and heads to the racetrack, where his racer Eugenio Castellotti (Marino Franchitti) is promptly killed in a horrific accident. In the episode immediately preceding this death, the priest equates Enzo and his ilk with “gods” (and, in fact, with Jesus himself). However, if he behaves like a deity, Enzo is repeatedly reminded that he is not omnipotent, numerous deaths for which he feels enormous guilt, be it Alfredo, Eugenio or two friends who died driving a Ferrari several years earlier, forcing Enzo to give up driving behind.

As if this weren’t enough for Enzo, the media compares him to Saturn devouring his son, and his relationship with Lina is complicated by the question of whether Piero will be allowed to take the Ferrari name – a tricky situation considering Laura doesn’t. I don’t know about him. “How do we reconcile this?” – asks Enzo. The answer is that they can’t, at least not easily, especially when Laura discovers her husband’s secret life and, predictably, finds herself crushed. Ferrari doesn’t offer its protagonist any forgiveness in this regard, showing Laura’s agony in the foreground with close-ups – one in Alfredo’s grave, another at Lina’s front door – in which Cruise masterfully expresses the cascading wave of anguish, bitterness, rage and sadness. It’s as subtle and moving a performance as the Oscar winner has given since 2006. Volverand it turns her sparring sessions with Driver into the film’s highlights.

Still from a photo of Penelope Cruz in a Ferrari

Just as Enzo is full of inconsistencies, so is Ferrari is torn apart in the second half as Mann concentrates on the Mille Miglia and the Ferrari team, including rookie Alfonso De Portago (Gabriel Leone) and veterans Piero Taruffi (Patrick Dempsey) and Peter Collins (Jack O’Connell), are tasked with saving the race. The company would go out first, as a win would allow Enzo to sell enough cars to remain solvent and cement a long-term financial partnership with a foreign automaker.

Mann’s racing sequences are fast-paced and muscular, if a bit over-the-top; The film is centered on Enzo, and when he turns away from him for any length of time, its momentum weakens. Thankfully, these periods are relatively short-lived, and the director’s superb widescreen skill, aided by David Fincher’s regular cinematographer Eric Messerschmidt and characterized by Enzo’s repeated downward-facing close-ups, is mesmerizing. Using grainy DV images of his recent work, they support Enzo’s belief that “When a thing works better, it’s usually more beautiful to the eye.”

Still from a photograph of Adam Driver in a Ferrari

Ferrari boasts many dramatic stakes but cares little about resolving them; rather, he tunes in to Enzo in all his overwhelming, earth-shattering glory. It’s a subtly bold and uplifting take on the usually staid biopic genre, with Driver’s mogul racing forward through one literal and figurative accident after another, always confident that he can fix what (or he) is broken. However, Enzo doesn’t just strive to control one note, he also often displays touches of edgy humor, as well as a deep-seated sense of responsibility and guilt for the loss of life caused by his hyper-competitive ambitions. In Mann and Driver’s capable hands, Enzo resonates as a titan whose thorny complications are the source of his successes and failures, and for whom détente—with his loved ones and with himself—is impossible.

Another of his many films about strict, serious people who are in different worlds and are guided by personal codes. Ferrari understands and accepts the meticulousness and messiness of her subject. By refusing to resort to a comforting formula, he demonstrates Enzo’s belief that triumph is never achieved by playing it safe.

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