I love movies about cars, racing, real events, real people and lots of drama. I’m also old enough to remember Dad taking me and my brothers to see “On Any Sunday” at the theater when we were children living in Southern California. That movie, directed and produced by Bruce Brown, was an instant classic, with legends such as Malcolm Smith, Mert Lawwill and Steve McQueen going insanely fast on loud two-stroke dirt bikes and flat-trackers. I was mesmerized.

So, when I heard about Michael Mann’s big-budget production “Ferrari,” it was a must-see. Not only because I love motorsports films, but because I’ve also owned a few cars from the world’s most famous marque.

Ferrari flicks

The movie follows in the footsteps of two recent and successful automotive Hollywood productions. “Rush,” directed by Ron Howard, pitted British Formula One bad boy James “The Shunt” Hunt against Ferrari’s more-reserved Niki Lauda as they battled it out for the 1976 World Championship. “Ford v Ferrari” was another great recent film, presenting the story of Ford taking on Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both got two spark plugs up from me.

“Ferrari,” which opened in theaters over the Christmas holiday, is a different film. If “Rush” and “Ford v Ferrari” are action movies with plenty of drama, this latest entry in the Ferrari film canon is the opposite. It’s primarily a drama with some great action scenes. The film follows the life of Enzo Ferrari (played by Adam Driver) in 1957, when his car company is small, struggling and rarely profitable. The plot delves into Ferrari’s complicated relationship with his wife, Laura (Penelope Cruz), and his mistress, Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), who also happens to be the mother of his only surviving son, Piero.

Wait for it

“Ferrari” is a classic tale of a worn-out marriage, deceit and hidden romance. The Ferraris’ despair after losing son Dino to illness fuels the guilt that gets thrown back and forth between the married couple. There’s plenty of that to go around. While the drama was well developed and well acted, it nevertheless had me wanting to get to the scenes involving the legendary Mille Miglia, the famous — and deadly — 1,000-mile blast around Italy on public roads. Winning the Mille was everything to Enzo in 1957. While unknown at the time, it would be the final running of this classic road race.

When the film finally gets to the race, and Ferrari’s rivalry with Maserati, you won’t be disappointed. The action sequences are well done, and the cars, whether real (some were) or re-creations, look terrific. High-speed driving scenes are top notch and take the viewer back to a time when racing drivers took unbelievable risks. 

I felt “Ferrari” could have moved along a bit faster, but then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that mainstream viewers felt the exact opposite.

Reality bites

While we’ve heard grousing about some of the dramatic license taken in “Ferrari,” by the standards of Hollywood biopics, it’s pretty good. If you’re among those demanding absolute fealty to history, you should probably instead watch the 2017 documentary “Ferrari: Race to Immortality,” if you haven’t already. (It’s currently available on several streaming services.)

The film is full of incredible historical footage from the 1950s, though, like “Ferrari,” it is not for the faint of heart. The opening scenes of “Ferrari: Race to Immortality” show an open race car flipping end-over-end as the driver is ejected and thrown far from the wreck, which is pretty gruesome. From there, the film explores the early days of Scuderia Ferrari, its drivers and their relationship with Enzo. Period color film clips show a who’s who of legendary drivers from that era, including Sir Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio.

Most of the movie is focused on Ferrari’s team of developing young drivers willing to risk all for fame, fortune and wins on the track. Alberto Ascari, Eugenio Castellotti, Alfonso de Portago, Luigi Musso and Peter Collins come across as a dream team of dashing young men with beautiful girlfriends. The drivers have it all: fame, an exciting lifestyle, fast cars and Enzo Ferrari, who is willing to fund their exciting careers. In the end, however, after all the glitzy scenes in Monaco and elsewhere, every driver will perish in racing accidents.

“Ferrari: Race to Immortality” can be hard to watch, but it is an unfiltered look into a different and far more dangerous era of automobile racing. I think it’s the true cinematic masterpiece for those interested in the history of the marque. ♥

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