D: Rob Cohen / 106m
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, Matt Schulze, Ted Levine, Ja Rule, Vyto Ruginis, Noel Gugliemi, Reggie Lee
In Los Angeles, a gang of thieves are hijacking trucks using heavily modified Honda Civics. Sent undercover to find out who is behind the thefts, cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) infiltrates the street racing scene, making a particular impression at Toretto’s Market where he flirts with Mia Toretto (Brewster). This angers Vince (Schulze) who is attracted to Mia and is part of Dominic Toretto (Diesel)’s crew (Dominic is the focus of Brian’s investigation). Vince and Brian fight but Dominic breaks it up. Later, Brian turns up at a street race and bets his car’s pink slip that he can beat Dominic, but he loses. The police arrive to break up the event and Brian sees a chance to get into Dominic’s good books: he helps him get away.
They find themselves in territory controlled by Dominic’s old rival, Johnny Tran (Yune) and his cousin Lance (Lee). Johnny blows up Brian’s car, leaving him to find a “ten-second car” for Dominic. He finds a wrecked Toyota Supra and brings it to Dominic’s garage where he starts to restore it; he also begins dating Mia. Evidence points toward Tran being responsible for the hijackings, but a raid on Tran’s property reveals the goods Brian has seen there to have been legally purchased. With Tran no longer a suspect, Brian begins to believe that Dominic and his crew are responsible.
A street racing event, Race Wars, sees Dominic’s friend, Jesse (Lindberg) lose a race with Tran. Jesse flees with the car he should have handed over. Tran demands Dominic find the car and bring it to him, but Dominic is less than accommodating. Instead of looking for Jesse, Dominic and his team (who are the thieves), attempt a heist in order to help get Jesse out of Tran’s debt. But the heist goes wrong, and when Vince is badly injured, Brian breaks his cover to get him help.
Brian later attempts to arrest Dominic but he’s interrupted by the return of Jesse, who is killed by Tran and Lance in a drive-by shooting. Dominic and Brian both go after them, and it leads to a desperate chase through the streets and Brian making the toughest decision of his police career.
Back in 2001, the idea that this modest, straight-shooting actioner would spawn six sequels, and that they would be increasingly successful – so much so that the fifth sequel in the series, Fast & Furious 6 (2013) would gross over $750 million worldwide – seemed an unlikely one. The cast weren’t exactly household names, the director had made a modest success of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) but again wasn’t very well known, and the concept of street racing as a backdrop for criminal activity involving high-speed cars didn’t sound that exciting.
And yet the movie was – and remains – a pleasant surprise, not quite as high-octane as some of its successors, but (if it’s at all possible) more grounded and less reliant on being over the top. The car chases and vehicular action sequences are all well-staged and expertly choreographed, but there’s a lot of attention paid to the characters, and their milieu is entirely credible. With the groundwork providing a solid basis for the action, the movie is free to examine notions of brotherhood, loyalty, respect, and most of all, family, with Dominic in the role of pater familias.
All this offsets some of the sillier aspects of the script – Brian’s superiors behave like they’ve had a collective tyre iron shoved somewhere uncomfortable, and make noises like spoilt children; the final heist is attempted on one of those long American roads that no one else travels along – and helps make the movie more than just a collection of scenes that car fetishists will replay over and over again. The cars are spectacular, and the street racing scenes do have a raw energy to them, but it’s the growing bromance between Dominic and Brian that takes centre stage and proves the most enjoyable element, as the gruff, laconic mechanic-cum-street-racer-cum-hijacker takes the foolhardy policeman under his wing and welcomes him into a world he barely knew existed. It’s a little too neat that Brian keeps Dominic out of jail and places his own career in jeopardy, and Brian’s reasons for doing so are never adequately explained, but within the confines of the movie it still, somehow, works.
As ever, Diesel does brooding with his usual menacing insouciance, while Walker is all tousled curls and winning smile, but not quite the fully formed character the movie needs (though this is due more to the script by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer than Walker’s actual performance). On the distaff side, Rodriguez is as ballsy as you’d expect, and Brewster provides a softer contrast, though in most respects their characters serve as eye candy with dialogue (again a problem with the script). Of the supporting cast, only Schulze makes any real impression, and it soon becomes clear that none of the rest are going to return in later instalments.
Similarities to Point Break (1991) are pretty obvious, but The Fast and the Furious is still its own thing, a turbo-charged action movie that Cohen has fun with, changing gears with gusto and setting up several moments where the audience can say “wow!” and not feel embarrassed immediately afterward. There’s a terrific score by BT that fuses industrial, hip-hop and electronica and perfectly suits the movie’s mise en scene, as well as providing a propulsive background to some of the car sequences. And if not all the car stunts seem likely, it’s worth bearing in mind the physics-defying absurdity of some of the movies that followed.
Rating: 7/10 – a solid, unpretentious beginning to the franchise, The Fast and the Furious is one of those guilty pleasures guaranteed to put a smile on your face – every time; fast moving and tense, the movie aims for thrills and spills and doesn’t disappoint.