Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fast Five

Fast Five ends with a chase sequence about as ridiculously improbable as you can imagine. It involves two cars and a huge safe chained to the back of both of them. They speed down the streets of downtown Rio, where there is remarkably little traffic in the way, while every corrupt police officer in the city is in hot pursuit.

Logic dictates that this is not humanly possible; that the safe would be so heavy that it surely it would jerk the cars right off the road. Yes it would, and don’t call me Shirley.

The point is, there’s a lot of stupid stuff that happens in Fast Five, and it’s to be cherished. Bad movies will leave you with no other desire than to pick them apart; their every idiocy glaring. But a good movie will leave you having too much fun to care and Fast Five is high-wire, pedal-to-the-metal, guilty pleasure type stuff. Finally someone got the memo that action movies can be fun again. The thing to cherish about the first 2 Fast & Furious movies was that they had A-movie budgets with B-movie minds. They didn’t have a brain in their head and made that a quality not a downfall. The series has finally found that again.

It also helps that director Justin Lin (behind the wheel so-to-speak for the third time) has finally mastered the car chase. It’s a delicate art and although Lin’s hand is not as smooth and assured as Rob Cohen or John Singleton before him, he’s finally learned, after the depressingly awfule Fast & Furious, the value of the long shot and how it’s okay to be able to see everything that is going on.

The most important element at work here is also that Lin finally appreciates the importance of distance and space.

Chase sequences work off the premise that, first, the audience feels motion, which is created by swift and extended camera moves and logical editing that creates some sort of reality so that we understand where all the players are in the action and where they are in relation to one another. The importance of camera movement is that action works on the excitement of motion and since the audience’s only connection to the action is that camera, the camera must work with what it is capturing in order to give the audience the sensation of being part of the movement.

The second thing action must do is create danger. One of my favourite action movie shots is in Casino Royale as James Bond chases a baddie atop a high crane is Madagascar. The camera flies in with a shot of the crane as the pursuit goes on. The shot is long and wide and flies over top of the hero with the ground always being visible. It’s more exciting than anything else I can think of. They are really up there and they could really fall.

Fast Five opens with an amazing action sequence that involves stealing cars off a speeding train. You know you're in good hands when you get the wide shot as the camera flies in towards the train. As cars are taken off the locomotive in an ingenious and improbable scheme we see all the possibilities from all sides: the ground speeding by below, the desert landscape, the bridge coming up, the drop just beyond it. The real stuff that could kill you that exists outside of this impossible moment. It’s the perfect package. That’s action.

The reason I bring boring old theory into the equation to discuss Fast Five is that a film such as itself needs theory as the only way to justify such ridiculousness. This is a film in which men ramp cars out of speeding trains, take free falls over cliff sides, jump from rooftop to rooftop, barge through concrete walls and glass panes in rabid fist fights and yes, drag a safe down the streets of Rio. If it wasn’t made well it would be a disaster. It’s made very well, with a wink and a nod, and we cherish, not only that we needn’t take it too seriously, but that it takes itself just seriously enough to be made with precision and quality. The film knows what it's doing.

So now the story in brief: After springing Domenic Toretta (Vin Diesel) out of jail he and O’Conner (Paul Walker) escape to Rio where they plan on doing one last job (the train job). Problem is, they partner with a local drug kingpin who has every corrupt cop in Rio in his back pocket so when the job goes south it leads to two subplots, one of which is exciting and the other, at 130 minutes running time, is overkill. The first is that the men, on the run from the Rio goons decide it will be their really last job to rob the kingpin of his savings which is kept in a safe at the local police station. They call up colleagues from former endeavours along with some new faces and get a team together.

Meanwhile, the cars stolen belonged to the Feds so they ship in Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson),a tough-as-nails, no BS, get-the-job-done type of cop who’s t-shirt always seems about 2 sizes too small over his bursting muscles and who's forehead always looks like it just came out of a torrential downpour. Although Johnson’s presence into the serious is more than welcome and he plays Hobbs on that thin line between driven and comedy (walking away with the film’s best line), he feels like an afterthought and spends the entire middle section of the film off screen.

There’s only really so much you can say about a film like Fast Five. Either you buy it and go along for the ride or you don’t. Maybe what I cherish most about this series is that A) Lin injects a nice amount of human scenes into the film that allow it to slow down, take a breather and make us care about the characters and (B), when it gets fired back up, even though it does employ CGI, for the most part the stunts and chases feel authentic. They may be ridiculous, but we feel like they are actually happening. And really if you don’t know what your going to get by the fifth time around you maybe never will. I went in looking for a hell of a ride. That’s about what I got.


  1. I was going to ignore this film... but you have made me rethink that. If I don't find the time to catch it in the theaters, I've made a note to watch for the DVD.

    Thanks for the write-up!

  2. Steve- I must say I have a weak spot for car chases and have been so dissapointed with action movies recently, especially the last movie in this franchise. I was rooting for this one though and it paid off.

  3. Nice analysis of what makes up an effective, well executed action sequence. As silly as 'Fast Five' is, it does have well made action sequences (even the foot chase in the favelas) that grabbed. Over at my blog, I allotted a small 'capsule review' article for the movie in which I made more fun of the movie than mention how fun it actually was, but you did a fine job here.

  4. I think that you did awesome when you selected this theme of the article. Do you usually make your blog entries alone or you have a business partner or a helper?

  5. Hi Technology, thanks for stopping by. I am the sole person working on this blog. Maybe one day I'll look into bringing in someone else and really growing this blog into something of note other than just my rambling.