Ferrari Review – 5/5. By Samhith Ankam.
For its opening minutes, the recreated telecast of Enzo Ferrari winning a race as it slowly loses motion on a still image of his smiling face, to the quiet eeriness of the “Ferrari” title in blood red, you can feel the gears spinning as the film tries to find something worth telling. Scripted from a book – Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine – Troy Kennedy Martin’s script punched up by Michael Mann feels, appropriately, like they’ve shuffled through the pages of someone else’s book and slowly realized how someone can lose all remnants of life even before they do their physical body. Michael Mann is a man running out of time, and he finds a period in which his character is a man who’s losing his grasp; Time is luck, luck is running out.
Only takes place over the course of one year, 1957, where Mann can bend time like putty into a ball, where Enzo’s past and future can be extrapolated from the bubbling of tensions in the present. There’s a blunt vitality to the scenes for the first act of Ferrari, showcasing his relationships, strained between his wife over the inevitable death of their kid and budding over his mistress over his illegitimate child, and the encroaching bankruptcy of Ferrari, the company, itself. Context building of both of these facets of Enzo’s life sees Mann having a blast with his apathy that’s rejuvenating in the seriousness that usually pervades most of his work. “You’re broke” “How” “You spend more than you make”. The stoicism veers on the line of satire. Laura, Enzo’s wife, pointing a gun at Enzo is treated with such nonchalance that it feels like the creation of a new kink, and the death of a driver sees Enzo merely annoyed that he has to ask a new driver to report to his office.
Getting onto the wavelength of late-era Michael Mann is partly the joy of his work, given that his scenes are often gestural instead of tracking a story in its most logistical form, but at the core of his work is the trap of greatness and the escape hatch that is romance. Ferrari is past the honeymoon stages of that of Miami Vice, Blackhat, and Public Enemies – his recent trilogy of digital experimentalism to embrace change even as it swallows his protagonists whole – and wallows in the loss of the life-affirming embrace of another human’s touch. Even within the bounds of these two hours and 10 minutes, this change in ethos manifests itself in the filmmaking during moments of romance; Michael Mann closely lingers on skin in the soft hues of daylight with Alfonso, an up-and-coming racer the likes of which could be a typical Mann protagonist, and his lover whereas his camera is bolted onto the table for Enzo and Laura. No movement, no emotion.
Getting on the wavelength of Ferrari is realizing that Michael Mann is following a walking corpse. Making this movie at this point of his career, despite being a passion project in the making for years on end, inadvertently fits right into his catalog as a meta-textual realization that he’s lost himself to the shackles of the world as well. Michael Mann’s worlds in fiction are full of detail that suffocates the characters within, but he’s always extrapolating the desire to be out of it – the desire for domesticity – and Ferrari is seeing that desire to its most hellish point with relationship drama, trite but real. Adam Driver closely holds the devastation of Enzo even in Enzo’s moments of wit, the movie wouldn’t work without him.
Ferrari isn’t back to basics for Mann after his experiments in digital filmmaking, but the hyper-realistic tendencies are toned down for a much more classical look – served well by cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt who’s worked previously on Mank. Mann’s guide has always been emotion, even if that means revoking logic from his frames. Take the skyline in Heat (1995), for example, while Neil and Eady reminisce about a possible future on a terrace, which is almost flattened into a singular plane like they’re walking on a glowing map. In the same vein, a freak accident perhaps can only be recounted by impossible physics. In Ferrari, take shots out of context from the races it brings to life and it can feel glaringly fake, maybe misjudged physics in the CGI when tracking how a car flips off the ground while crashing, but how it feels in the heat of the moment is so shocking, you’ll become hyper-aware of your own body especially when Michael Mann opens up his victims to the innocent instead of participants of the world he creates. An accident serves as the film’s centerpiece for its central fear – people can die so easily, in both emotional and physical forms.
But, up until the moments of metal clashing with the roads in destructive fashion, the racing is filmed in such an exhilarating way. The camera is framed to emphasize the objects quickly whipping out of the frame and constantly moving to keep objects in the frame creating a breathlessness in these sequences only compounded by the roaring engines. One shot, in particular, of the racer’s POV driving through a road bounded by trees feels revolutionary; subjectivity is Mann’s true love after all. Not a blockbuster by any means, but a drama that strives to be as exciting as possible.
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