Fast & Furious (2009) Retro Review

Five years after escaping LA, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is running a crew of criminals, hijacking fuel tankers south of the U.S. border alongside his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and partner Han (Sung Kang). But the fuzz is still after Dom, so he chooses to cut ties and leave Letty all his cash. Unfortunately, Letty dies soon after returning to LA, and Dom doesn’t think it’s an accident. He returns to the U.S. to seek his revenge, where he meets up with Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), back in the FBI and hot on the tail of crime lord Arturo Braga – the man who may have ordered Letty’s death. Dom and Brian form an uneasy alliance. Also, there is car racing.

There is one excellent car race in this film. There are several scenes of vehicular mayhem, but the main event takes place right in the middle of the story when O’Connor and Dom go head to head to see which will become Braga’s newest wheelman. This isn’t a ten-second race; it is a screaming joyride across LA with mostly practical effects and many, many accidents. (Fast & Furious is Justin Lin’s first film wherein the collateral damage of his racers is vividly shown but in no way consequential – to the drivers’ peace of mind. It reaches its apogee with Fast Five‘s insane final setpiece, with very probable deaths and millions of dollars in property damage given zero second glances.) Unfortunately, the action never quite gets back to that level.

Taken as a whole, the series needs Fast & Furious to get from the first half of its current hexology to its second. And while it is very satisfying to see the main cast reunited eight years after the original, this fourth installment is a dour one.

That’s to be expected, as the death of Letty puts Dominic on the warpath and actually makes this a revenge picture. And there’s still a lot of bitterness between Dom and O’Connor – because Brian lied to Dom about being a cop – but that always seemed wrong to me.

On a superficial level it makes sense that Dom wouldn’t trust Brian any farther than he could throw him, but that fails to account for everything Brian did for Dom at the end of The Fast and the Furious. Namely:

  • Showed up in the nick of time during Dom’s disastrous hijacking – right after Dom had lost a tire and Letty rolled her car – to rescue Vince (Matt Schulze).
  • Used his position as a police officer to call in a helicopter and save Vince’s life.
  • Pursued Johnny Tran (Rick Yune) after he murdered Jesse (Chad Lindberg) and actually killed him when he evaded arrest.
  • Gave Dom the keys to his car, making them both outlaws.

Given all of that, it’s juvenile for Dom to be pissed off at O’Connor. Personally it would have been a lot more of an emotional punch if the two were willing to team up from the beginning but it wasn’t until SPOILER Dom learns Brian put Letty undercover SPOILER that he completely loses it.

I mean, he completely loses it in the movie as is, but Dom was already pretty pissed off.

Fast & Furious has director Justin Lin’s signature style to it; it looks good and the action is well shot. But its dour tone and the limitations of its script keep it from rising to the level of greatness fans probably expected from this reunion. Also, there’s a lot of CG that’s used in the tunnel sequences, which never look real and never make you feel like anybody is in any real danger.

I was very surprised when Fast Five was announced because I didn’t think this one had made enough to justify a sequel. However, on a production budget of $85 million, it actually grossed over $155 million domestically and over $200 million internationally. With those numbers Universal was obligated to go one more, but even they were probably astonished at how well it did. Fast Five ended up grossing over $626 million worldwide. I’m telling you, people love these movies.

Because the franchise went on to do very well, Fast & Furious didn’t have to be the end of the series. That mitigates its shortcomings. And there’s a lot to like in here (“Dwight likes feet”). But, along with the souped-up budgets, Fast Five and Furious 6 get to be a lot more fun because Lin, the cast and the writers just go wild. It’s hard to tell with Fast & Furious how seriously it’s taking itself and that’s what makes it problematic. (As does my suspicion that this is where the series begins a visual document of Jordana Brewster’s eating disorder.)

Also, this movie marks the change from “Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto” to “Vin Diesel IS Dominic Toretto.” (Though, strangely enough, his brief cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift is definitely still the first installment’s Dominic Toretto.) From this point Dom goes from a three-dimensional character to a stoic, growly caricature. That is, until Letty comes back to life in part 6, which is goofy but romantic.

“Still a buster.”

Fast & Furious (2009)
PG-13
Directed by Justin Lin
Universal Pictures
107 Minutes

Fast and Furious Reviews
Part 1 – The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Part 2 – 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Part 4 – Fast Five (2011)
Part 5 – Furious 6 (2013)
Part 6 – The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

For more film reviews, check out Pierce Nahigyan’s Article Archive

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4 Comments on Fast & Furious (2009) Retro Review

  1. Yeah, with Paul Walker gone I hear they had to change the whole script. Rumor has it that Kurt Russell was coming in as O’Connor’s dad and was going to have an even bigger role in Part 8. No idea what we’re in for now.

    • I heard they’re going to send him off with his girlfriend into the sunset with what footage they have of him.

      Regardless of which turns out to be true, I don’t know what’s more respectful, showing post-mortem footage or none at all.

      • Yeah, actually when I heard he died my thought was, “Oh wow, so they can actually kill a main character in this franchise and really shake things up.”

        Except…that’s really disrespectful. Even if it worked from a story standpoint, Paul Walker dying on or offscreen would be awful to watch. No one wants to remember him that way. What you suggested is really the best way to go about it.

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