Directed by Justin Lin
USA, 2011, 130 Mins.
There is a scene in Justin Lin’s Fast Five that features our heroes driving through the streets of Rio de Janeiro at high speeds while carrying a bank vault that weighs god knows how much and being chased by some of Rio’s finest. Normally one would be watching this scene in complete and utter disbelief yet you have no choice but to watch this scene with respect and amazement. Lin’s film is a skillfully made example of great trash. It doesn’t have a brain in it’s big and loud head but it is fast and furious. This is the fifth film in The Fast and Furious saga and it is one of the best of the series.
If you haven’t been following along with the intracit narrative on display in The Fast and the Furious Saga, former cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is on the run with his girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) and her brother Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) after breaking Torretto out of a prison bus at the end of Fast and Furious. This scene also opens up Fast Five. Landing on the most wanted list, Brian and Mia meet up with Dom in Rio de Janeiro to lie low. They get roped into trying to pull of a train heist by Dom’s old buddy Vincent (Matt Schulte) and the heist goes wrong. Instead of leaving Rio, they decide to pull off an even bigger heist on an evil crime lord. In order to this they need to put together a team which brings back characters from the previous four films including Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) from 2 Fast 2 Furious; Han (Sung Kang) from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift; and Rico (Don Omar), Tego (Tego Calderon), and Gisele (Gal Gadot) from Fast and Furious. However hot on their trail is an FBI team led by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).
Fast Five is a big improvement on the previous installment, Fast and Furious, because it doesn’t take itself as seriously and the action is much better. Lin does for this film what he did for Tokyo Drift, making Rio de Janeiro a character in the film. The film’s gritty and authentic sense of place recalls films like City of God. The heist formula works perfectly for this franchise because The fact of the matter is that the Fast and Furious saga delivers on exactly what it set out to do: to be fast and furious.
Lin’s first film, Better Luck Tomorrow, remains one of the best indie film debuts of the 2000s and while he has worked in studio fare since than, for the most part he has been doing quality work. Whether he plans on working in the studio system for the rest of his career or using his clout to make a passion project remains to be seen.
Part of what makes this film so enjoyable is the reverence that it shows for these characters. Say what you will about the character development on display but fans of this franchise have grown an affection for these characters and these actors. Vin Diesel’s performance in the first film was a star-making one and he brings a ton of charisma to the role. Diesel is a good actor and has shown his range in films like Saving Private Ryan and the late Sidney Lumet’s film Find Me Guilty. We see flashes of that in this film as he actually pulls off the few quieter character moments in the film. While nobody should ever want to see Paul Walker’s Hamlet, he has a certain charm that works in these roles. Walker showed he was capable of more in Running Scared and he has improved as an actor. There is a comic moment that plays off his face beautifully in the film. Tyrese ran away with the show as the trash talking Roman in 2 Fast 2 Furious and he provides a welcome return with Ludacris while the duo gets most of the film’s laughs. However my favorite character in the franchise has become Han with his calm charisma and sly sense of humor. Sung Kang does excellent work here and is a really interesting actor to look out for. Dwayne Johnson has the films most ridiculous lines and he spits them out with fiery bravado. The homoerotic tension has shifted from Dom and Brian to Dom and Luke Hobbs.
Fast Five is a film that knows exactly what it is and executes that perfectly. The film is well paced and has action throughout while the actors each bring something to their particular character. It is respectful of the franchise and leaves room for more films. Best of all, it is in this new technology called 2D.
NOTE – The chronological order of the series is as follows: The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast and Furious, Fast Five, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Despite being the third film in the trilogy, Tokyo Drift takes place after the last two films.