Directed by Rob Cohen
June 22, 2001
A young undercover cop is tasked with learning the identities of a group of automobile hijackers but finds himself drawn into their world.
When I first saw this movie, I had very low expectations for it. I expected to pleasantly pass an hour and a half of my time and forget about this movie shortly afterwards. While I am an action fan and a crime fan, cars just are not my thing. They can be cool to look at, but they do not get me excited and a film in part built around them seemed like a stretch. To my surprise it was a very well-acted film with a good story that had underground street racing and the cars that went with it as a backdrop.
We all now know Vin Diesel as a musclebound action star but in this film, he creates a genuinely complex individual in Dominic Toretto. Dom is an almost fatherly figure to those around him. But he also has a volatile temper who was deeply affected by the death of his father in a racing accident several years prior. Diesel puts in real acting in the role that made him a bankable film star. The man has talent but unfortunately his physique and the image he cultivates negates the use of that too often.
Strangely though the focus of the film is not so much on Dom who was played by the person that became the bigger star but rather the character of Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) who is an LAPD officer and his struggle to do his job and as well as do the right thing. Paul Walker turned in a sophisticated performance here as a young and conflicted cop who found himself not only growing sympathetic to Dom but as a man drawn to Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster).
Thrown into the plot mix is Brian needing to contend with his boss Tanner (Ted Levine) who is under pressure from FBI Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry) to produce results and get hard evidence on Toretto. Bilkins himself is under political pressure to get things done.
Michelle Rodriguez plays Dom’s girlfriend Letty Ortiz and Matt Schulze shows up as Vince who is a member of Dominic’s crew and his childhood friend. He has a crush on Mia, and this brings him into direct conflict with Brian. I do take issue with how Dom so easily trusts Brian over Vince who is suspicious of the newcomer. Yes, Brian being in the right place at the right moment might engender trust but not blind trust. Chad Lindberg plays Jesse who is a highly intelligent character with A.D.D. I think he was meant to give the whole thing heart much like a cute kitten does when in a photograph.
Rick Yune plays great villains (Die Another Day for example) and here he plays Dom’s rival Johnny Tran who is a Vietnamese gang leader. Reggie Lee portrays Lance (really? Lance is the best they could do?) who is Tran’s cousin as well as his right-hand man.
The Fast and the Furious is a character driven story in large part with the vehicles inserted to give the narrative just a little extra pop. You could remove the cars entirely and still have a very quality film. The cars are integral at moments, but you could take them out and still have a strong crime drama.
And how can we not mention the vehicles? This could have amounted to a fairly simple car show with people just driving around in the tricked out machines but they made the cars which are all beautiful pieces of machinery as much of the film as the characters. We get several exciting races which add to the story and not simply showcase the cars.
On the surface there would look like at best a single episode of some flashy cop show and not a feature film but there is enough in this movie with the characters and the concept of street racing that nothing feels inserted to suck up time. And they make it all come off very cutthroat. Everything feels big and significant in relation to the story.
Director Rob Cohen is a solid director of such films as xXx, Dragonheart, Daylight (a personal favorite), and many others. As with the first and third of those much like here he took something that should not be good and made it entertaining. This film has great action and great characters along with a great story in a premise where maybe only one of those would show up on a good day.
The Fast and the Furious is a surprisingly good crime film. Cohen takes what should not work and turns it into a solid dramatic piece. Watch it!