5 Things Right and 7 Things Wrong in the Ferrari Movie

Jackson Wheeler
12 Min Read

Okay, okay, calm down, people. It’s just a movie. Trying to cram a subject as large as Enzo Ferrari into two hours and ten minutes of celluloid just isn’t going to result in a perfect, mirror reflection of reality. This ain’t Ken Burns. Some corners had to be bent, some liberties had to be taken. Accept that.

“Whenever there is a movie or TV series, it’s basically fiction,” said Luca Dal Monte, whose book, Enzo Ferrari: Power, Politics, and the Making of an Automotive Empire is perhaps the definitive tome on the great but ultimately flawed man. “Even though it’s about somebody who’s a public person, even if it’s from a true story, we should never forget when we see this kind of product that it’s fiction. I think it is normal that there may be things that did not necessarily happen like that in life. This is what Hollywood does.”

Does that mean you have to lower your standards to see Ferrari the movie? Maybe it means you just have to accept it for what it is, a movie. Yet even as such, it is still just about the most accurate reading on the life of Enzo Ferrari as you’re ever going to get in a full-blown Hollywood production.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t pick nits. So here are our favorite truths and lies presented in Michael Mann’s great Italian epic.

a person driving a red ferrari

You’re not going to get a better Ferrari movie unless Ken Burns does one.

Enos Hoagland

The Good

The cars looked fantastic. Director Michael Mann knows his great Italian sports cars, and he took meticulous care to present them here, from the Maserati 450S to the Ferrari 315 S and 335 S, just as they raced in the Mille Miglia in 1957. Some of the cars you see are real, including the Ferrari 801 Grand Prix car that Eugenio Castellotti, played by Marino Franchitti, drives around the Modena Autodromo early on in the movie, and the Maserati GP car Derek Hill, playing Jean Behra, had driven shortly before that. For many of the recreations, the crew took laser scans of the bodies of real cars and sent them to a Modenese carrozzeria to have them painstakingly recreated for the screen. The new bodies were placed over Caterham chassis and drivetrains, which were, according to Hill, “Fantastic to drive.”

“There were real cars that we rented and then there were the cars that we built which are the principal cars,” said stunt coordinator Robert Nagle. “For the Mille Miglia we had built seven of them and then the rest were real cars that we rented. But the cars that were really run hard are the ones that we built.”

The drivers—Taruffi, Von Trips, Portago, Behra—were accurately chosen and portrayed.

That was the best job I’ve ever had in my life,” said Patrick Dempsey, who plays Taruffi. “I was in Italy, driving cars at speed, and eating great food.”

Many of the racing scenes, particularly those shot from overhead using helicopters and drones, were exciting without looking fake, for the most part.

The ultimate shot of de Portago’s crash, for instance, took up a fair amount of budget.

“It was an amazing marriage of practical, special effects and VFX,” said Nagle of that one sequence. “We spent a lot of time trying to integrate what fades into what at what point and trying to stitch all that together.”

ferrari the movie

Laura Ferrari, played by Penelope Cruz, as the woman scorned.

Lorenzo Sisti; Courtesy of NEON

Penelope Cruz was fantastic and should get the Oscar for best supporting actress ever. Imagine being her character, Laura Ferrari, a public figure in her own right and an integral part of the company’s finances, but having to live with the knowledge that your famous husband was out philandering every day. Cruz channels all that anger into an intensity that should come with a warning label.

The fact that it was all shot in Italy instead of trying to make Southern California look Italian (or French) was great. Look at Ford v Ferrari and you see Le Mans set in Fontana, California, for instance. The Ferrari team took up residence in Italy for many months to get it all right, often shooting in the real locations from the 1957 race portrayed in the movie. Again, not everything was perfecto, but you’re never going to get anything this close to it again.

Enzo and Laura Ferrari had a complicated marriage. The loss of their only beloved son Dino when he was only 24 was devastating. As often happens in these situations, such a tragedy reveals cracks in the marriage that the couple might have been able to hide before. You really feel for Enzo when he visits his son’s grave. And you better understand Laura’s rage. This part of the film helps explain all the other parts.

The Bad

Many events in the movie were chronologically rearranged to fit the script. That might drive you nuts. But a big one towers above all the others. The whole premise of the movie is that if Ferrari the company doesn’t start selling more road cars it’ll be out of business.

“It is totally inaccurate,” said Dal Monte. “Maserati was in a bad financial situation in 1957, but not Ferrari by any means. Besides, the Mille Miglia is the second round of the Sportscar World Championship alongside Formula One, in which by the way, Ferrari has done well, because in 1956 Ferrari won the World Championship in Formula One with Fangio. So yes, the Mille Miglia is a very famous, very important race, especially for the Italians. But just like Le Mans, it is part of a larger championship series. And there is not a particularly hard time, financially speaking, for Ferrari. I understand that this could make a good story, but it’s not necessarily accurate.”

By the late 1950s Ferrari was not the extremely rich and profitable company it is today. But if you go back to that time, Ferrari had probably never done better in his life.

In 1957 or ‘58 it was the first time that Ferrari had ever made more than 100 cars a year. Italy was in the middle of an economic boom following the reconstruction of WWII, and Ferraris were sold everywhere, in Italy, in Europe, in America.

“So what I’m saying is no, it’s not a particularly hard time for Ferrari. It is, personally speaking of course, because his firstborn son died the year before. But economically speaking it’s not as bad as it could have been 10 years earlier.”

While Ferrari did strike a financial deal with Fiat, that wasn’t done until years later. The scene where Ferrari tells a reporter to say in his newspaper that Ford is interested in buying his company, even though that’s totally untrue, that story placement didn’t happen until six years after the movie takes place.

Alfonso de Portago is presented as begging Enzo for a drive in the 1957 Mille Miglia, when in truth he had been brought into the Ferrari team in 1953, driving both sports cars and Grand Prix entries, the latter where he garnered two second-place finishes.

The real Enzo Ferrari couldn’t speak English, and Adam Driver tries a little too hard to fake an Italian accent. It’s not as bad as Ferrari mistress Shailene Woodley, who looks and sounds more like a California surfer. At least they’re not all speaking with fake British accents. But what do you want, real Italian language throughout with English subtitles? How many people would go to see that?

They never raced wheel-to-wheel for 1000 miles. “They were miles apart,” lamented Ferrari owner, Pebble judge, and the man who wrote his master’s thesis on the attempt by Ford to buy Ferrari, John Clinard. But it looks better in the movie if they do.

Enzo had way more than one mistress. He was a genuine hound dog, that Enzo. Historical reports have him pursuing female workers in his factories, among many other venues. The most famous other mistress may have been Fiamma Breschi, the beautiful Italian actress and girlfriend of Ferrari driver Luigi Musso. When Musso was killed driving a Ferrari in the French Grand Prix, Enzo swooped in, and they carried on a relationship till his death.

While he’s presented in the movie as an emotionless, cold-hearted tactician, the real Enzo had the ability to be charming (I think, from reading the big yellow book), to amass a great surrounding of friends, to schmooze, and that was how he built an empire. He wasn’t just the ruthless bastardo we see in this movie.

What did you love or loathe about the movie? Let us know in the comments below.

Headshot of Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there. This was his introduction to objective automotive criticism. He started writing for City News Service in Los Angeles, then moved to Europe and became editor of a car magazine called, creatively, Auto. He decided Auto should cover Formula 1, sports prototypes and touring cars—no one stopped him! From there he interviewed with Autoweek at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show and has been with us ever since.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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