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Updated: Jan 26

Michael Mann (Heat, Thief) is back in the Director's chair after eight long years with FERRARI.

It's a project he's been working on for over 20 years. Troy Kennedy Martin (The Italian Job, Kelly's Heroes), who wrote the compelling screenplay, died in 2009. Mann never gave up on making the film and that long gestation period has served it well.

Adam Driver is excellent as Enzo Ferrari. Mann drops us into the summer of 1957 and the film only depicts that pivotal summer timeframe within the Ferrari history.

Enzo's car making legacy is at a tipping point, with Jaguar and Maserati at his heels in establishing a racing team and a global car brand.

In the opening scenes, he loses a driver in spectacularly graphic fashion.

He's immediately thrown into a crisis to find a new driver before the 1000 mile Mille Miglia, a grueling team race through the countryside of Italy.

As his CFO circles him with news on the impending bankruptcy of the company, Enzo is also dealing with his very unhappy wife Laura Ferrari. With ownership stock, she's embarrassed and fed up with Enzo's long affair that has begun to encroach on her life. Penelope Cruz (Vanilla Sky, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Nine) delivers a knockout performance as Laura. Looking haggard, raw and emotionally spent for much of the film, Cruz's Laura is a force to be reckoned with.

Driver and Cruz love, battle and negotiate their way through some very rough personal and financial roads. Enzo and Laura have lost a young son to illness and it's driven a huge emotional wedge between them. Revelations from Enzo's affair land hard. Both actors are at the top of their game.

Less so is Shailene Woodley (To Catch A Killer, The Descendants) badly miscast as Enzo's mistress Lina Lardi. Her accent comes and goes and she just doesn't have the presence to match Driver's power as Enzo.

Patrick Dempsey is a standout as Enzo's oldest, established driver Pierro Taruffi. He's almost unrecognizable but owns every scene he's in.

The racing action is limited to the opening of the film and the last sequence, but it's some of the best racing action ever filmed. Mann and team purchased exact replicas of the 1957 team cars and through a seamless blend of live action filming in the cars and incredible CGI (I defy you to tell me which scenes are which) you're dropped into the drivers seat and all around the speeding cars.

The 1000 mile Mille Miglia comprises the final quarter of the film and it's edge of your seat thrilling from the opening flag to the final moments.

There is a sense of creeping dread in one tragic leg of the race that Mann stages with jaw-dropping intensity. He's lost none of his touch to create mood, atmosphere and suspense and all are in play.

Driver is rarely off screen and this is one of his best performances, recreating a complicated man by showing as much of his personal life as it does his business hours.

I expected more of an action film than a personal drama, but Mann somehow enriches the story by balancing both, creating one of the best biopics in recent memory.

FERRARI races to an A.

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