For nearly a quarter-century Michael Mann made a series of intensely male-ish, high-stakes grand-slammers — hardcore films about headstrong fellows forging their own paths, sometimes outside the bonds of legality but always single-mindedly. And man, did they hit the spot!

The hot streak began with 1981’s Thief and ended with 2006’s Collateral, and also included Manhunter (’86), The Last of the Monicans (’92), Heat (’95), The Insider (’99) and Ali (’01) — seven films in all.

Then came the “excellent work but not quite a bell-ringer” period…Miami Vice (’06), Public Enemies (’09) and Blackhat (’15)…movies that registered as ground-rule doubles or triples. Which felt disorienting to Mann-heads given his 23-year home run history.

Now comes Ferrari (Neon, 12.25), which is made of authentic, bruising, searing stuff. In my eyes it’s another grand-slammer but what do I know? Obviously the reaction so far has been mixed-positive — many admirers but also a modest-sized crowd of dissenters.

Two months ago: Set in 1957, this immersive, Italian-made film is about an old man (Enzo Ferrari was born in 1898) entwined in a make-or-break struggle to keep his teetering car company afloat while preparing for a climactic, fate-defining cross-country race and while finessing a volatile family situation involving infidelity and conflicted loyalties.

“It’s a great time-machine trip, intimate and low-key for the first three quarters but with a serious knockout finale. It’s culturally authentic (you really feel like you’re there) with a sturdy script and several nicely flavored performances…an ensemble piece that pretty much fires on all cylinders.

Ferrari really pays off over the last 35 to 40 minutes, which is almost all racing.”

The blockage that some seem to be experiencing is that they want all of Ferrari to deliver like the final act. But the film isn’t structured this way — it’s intended to be a domestic drama (family + business) that shifts into high gear toward the end. That’s the plan, the idea. The scheme needs to be respected.

Posted on 10.13.123:

Ferrari is basically a torrid Italian family drama (Mann meets Luchino Visconti with a splash or two of Douglas Sirk salad dressing) about emotional and financial turmoil afflicting the embattled Ferrari, played by a nattily-dressed, white-haired, slightly paunchy Adam Driver.

Let’s not forget, of course, that two years ago a younger-looking Driver played another head of an elite, world-renowned, family-owned Italian company in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci.

Let’s be honest — Joe and Jane Popcorn are going to say “this again?”

Given the Ferrari-Driver-Gucci overlap, I’m not sure how commercially vigorous Ferrari will turn out to be when it opens in late December. All I know is that despite the vaguely odd-duck, here-we-go-again factor, Ferrari works on its own compelling terms.

Penelope Cruz’s blistering, tough-as-nails, scorned-wife performance shoul dhave been a guaranteed Best Supporting Actress nomination lock. Somehow that never happened.

Eric Messerschmidt’s cinematography is wonderful — it reminded me of Gordon Willis’s lensing of the first two Godfather films and Part Two in particular.

Ferrari is basically 90 minutes of fractured family drama and a knockout crescendo showing the 1957 Mille Miglia, a decisive, hair-raising event in the fortunes of Ferrari’s precariously financed car company.

The domestic side is basically about Ferrari’s hands being full with Cruz’s angry wife Laura, Ferrari’s mistress Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley), and loads of financial pressure and numerous wolves at the door.

Mario Andretti: “[Ferrari] just demanded results. But he was a guy who also understood when the cars had shortcomings. He was one that could always appreciate the effort that a driver made, when you were just busting your butt, flat out, flinging the car and all that. He knew and saw that. He was all-in. He had no other interest in life outside of motor racing and all of the intricacies of it. Somewhat misunderstood in many ways because he was so demanding, so tough on everyone, but at the end of the day he was correct. Always correct. And that’s why you had the respect that you had for him.”