Unless you're a hard-core motor racing fan--and I do mean hard core--you're not going to find this movie particularly compelling. Set in 1957, the movie is mostly about Enzo Ferrari, his wife, Laura (who owned half of his business), and his girlfriend, Lina (who was the mother of his illegitimate and sole surviving son, Pierro).
The plot is built around the 1957 Mille Miglia, Italy's famed thousand-mile road race, which one of Enzo Ferrari's powerful sports cars must win, if the company is to survive.
A number of names are dropped throughout the film, names that only those who know motor racing intimately, will recognize. Such as Jean Behra, Adolfo Orsi, Peter Collins, Carlo Chitti, Juan Manual Fangio, Wolfgang von Trips, and Olivier Gendebien. Indeed, the driver who won the 1957 Mille Miglia for Ferrari was a journeyman Italian driver named Pierro Taruffi. Ever heard of him?
Ostensibly, the movie covers a three-month period in 1957, but the script writers fail to get their dates straight. The race was run on May 11-12, which is correct. However, before the race, Enzo Ferrari mentions Jaguar as having won that year's Le Man 24 Hours (the race was indeed won by Jaguar--one months later). Also footage is shown of Fangio's Maserati F1 winning the French Grand Prix at Rouen; in fact Fangio's Maserati did not win the race, until July 7.
Having said that I enjoyed seeing the green Italian countryside through which the Mille Miglia was run--over tree-lined public roads; from Brescia in the north down to a roundabout in Rome, and back up to Brescia (a distance of some 950 miles). I also enjoyed seeing the footage taken inside the once-secret Ferrari factory in Modena, as well as the private circuit where Ferrari did much of their testing: the short, tight Modena Autodrome. Early in the movie, one of Ferrari's star drivers, Eugenio Castelotti is killed there while testing the latest Ferrari F-1 (not mentioned is the fact that Castelotti had won the 1956 Mille Miligia for Ferrari).
Indeed, the 1957 Mille Miglia is the highlight of the movie, a race marred by the tragic death of Alfonso de Portago, who while leading with 40 miles to go, crashed spectacularly as the result of a tire blowout. It's a disturbing racing accident that killed ten spectators, five of whom were children.
That said, it's wonderful to behold on the big screen the glory days of the rivalry between two old world titans that dominated motor racing in the 1950s--Ferrari and Maserati. The cars are gloriously red and savagely brutal, fast-as-the-wind, and in-your-face loud and brilliantly grand (Ah, the very mythology that drew me to motor racing in the first place).
Maseratis were decidedly quicker, while Ferraris were more durable and therefore won more often. It seems filmmaker Michael Mann ignored the magic that was the Ferrari-Maserati rivalry, that shown so brightly during the summer and fall of 1957. Instead he chose to focus on the sullen and heartless Enzo Ferrari and his family's shameless money squabbles, and on the revolting crash and death of an obscure and mediocre racing talent--Alfonso de Portago. If it's true that people are drawn to motor races to see men crash and die, then Michael Mann has a hit on his hands (personally, I don't believe this to be true; people who love motor racing deplore accidents and car crashes, and especially a driver's death).
The movie concludes with news that a compromise had been reached with Laura Ferrari, that will save the company from bankruptcy. Not mentioned is the fact the Mille Miglia would no longer be run--too dangerous, declared the Italian government.
In the closing credits we learn that Ferrari's illegitimate son, Pierro Ferrari, today heads up the Ferrari automobile company.
Final note: the acting is brilliant, particularly that of Adam Driver as the legendary patriarch of Italian motor racing--Enzo Ferrari.