We’ve all heard the legend: Ferruccio Lamborghini tried to buy a Ferrari, and Enzo wouldn’t let him because Lamborghini made tractors and therefore wasn’t “a gentleman.” Or that Ferruccio owned several Ferraris but was frustrated that the clutches wore out, and Enzo got miffed when Lamborghini suggested a fix. Or that…
That’s the thing with legends—when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. So somebody finally printed it, by trying to put the legend of Ferruccio Lamborghini on screen. And not just anybody: Academy Award winner (for Crash) Bobby Moresco, who wrote the screenplay for and also directed Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend, available now in limited release and on Amazon Prime.
The movie is based on the book Ferruccio’s real-life son Tonino published in Italian titled “Ferruccio Lamborghini: La Storia Ufficiale.” Now you could assume the son Tonino would write a flattering portrayal of his famous industrialist father. And maybe he did (anybody who reads Italian want to chime in?), publishing the biography on the 100th anniversary of father Ferruccio’s birth in 1916. And there is a great story in there. Somewhere.
But the problem is it’s all presented in chopped-up scenes with crunchy, bite-sized dialogue that doesn’t taste as good as the setting looks, or the real story deserves.
We start out with young Ferruccio returning from the war. Both the real and the movie Ferruccio served in the Italian Army as mechanics. There are the clichés of the beautiful girl who waited for him, the farmer father who wants his son to stay on the family farm, the struggles of a young entrepreneur.
Ferruccio and his business partner friend Matteo turn an old Topolino into a race car. They will use the prestige of their wins to gather funding to build their first tractor.
“We’re redesigning the engine, increasing the displacement, turning a 500-cc into a 650-cc. I have also an idea for a new cylinder head with overhead valves. It will be as fast or faster than any car in the race,” enthuses young Ferruccio.
They line up for the race, where the starter—waving a checkered flag instead of a green flag, turns out to be (how convenient!) Enzo Ferrari himself. Il Commendatore shares a nod with the young Lamborghini.
But the race doesn’t go well. From the shotgun seat where he is riding mechanic, Ferruccio demands that Matteo pass a Porsche 356 (which would not be built until at least a decade later) and a Mercedes 190SL (which likewise appears well ahead of its time), going so far as to grab the wheel from Matteo. They crash.
Is the dream over? No! He funds the tractor build anyway, with a bank loan, and designs a hybrid—hybrid-fueled, that is. It starts with gasoline, warms up, then reverts to cheaper “petroleum.”
Fast forward to Act II. Lamborghini decides to build his first road car, after an encounter with a particularly arrogant and downright nasty Enzo Ferrari (that’s the legendary part). His tractor company is up to the task, as he has brought on staff automotive luminaries Giotto Bizzarrini, Gianpaolo Dallara, and Franco Scaglione, among others. Will they be able to build the car in time for the Geneva Motor Show? Can they meet Lamborghini’s exacting demands? Will he approve?
The story lurches from one predictable plot device to the next. There’s a staredown with Enzo at Geneva. There’s philandering by Lamborghini. There’s the alienated son Tonino who doesn’t get enough attention from his too-busy dad. And always, the movie returns to the metaphorical race between Lamborghini in a Countach and Enzo Ferrari in a Mondial.
A few other problems: While Frank Grillo makes an excellent (maybe perfect) Ferruccio Lamborghini, with all the old Italian men available in the world they cast short, Irish actor Gabriel Byrne to play Ferrari? They get the Academy Award-winning Mira Sorvino to play Annita Lamborghini and give her only a few lines and a lot of crying? We barely see the Miura, arguably the most important and maybe the greatest supercar Lamborghini ever made, and then the film makes it look like Lamborghini designed it on a napkin instead of Marcello Gandini when he was at Bertone.
You keep thinking the movie really deserves to be better than it is. Let's hope that next year's Ferrari is way better than this.
So, should you find one of the few theaters playing it, or pay the $4.99 to watch it on Amazon Prime? As a car guy, or gal, you are beholden to watch every car movie ever made—good or bad—from Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Steve McQueen in Le Mans. I watched this latest biopic twice, so you should watch it at least once, if only to pick out the occasional cool car—and to scream at the screen every now and then.
Do you plan to see the Lamborghini biopic, or have you already and would like to share an opinion? Please comment below.