Monday, 24 October 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Fast Five

Directed by: Justin Lin

Produced by: Neil H. Moritz
Vin Diesel
Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by: Chris Morgan

Based on: Characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

Starring: Vin Diesel
Paul Walker
Jordana Brewster
Dwayne Johnson

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: Stephen F. Windon

Editing by: Kelly Matsumoto
Fred Raskin
Christian Wagner

Studio: Original Film
One Race Films

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): April 20, 2011 (Australia)
April 21, 2011 (United Kingdom)
April 29, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 130 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $125 million

Box office revenue: $626, 137, 675

Heya folks, I said the reviews to be coming in regularly, I just didn't expect it to be a week before I got down to reviewing my next film. As scheduled, I did see Tyrannosaur, so a review for that will follow this one, as will definite reviews for Barbarossa: Siege Lord and Never Let Me Go. I Saw The Devil might be saved till next month, but I intend on seeing one (or all) of these films: Real Steel, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark and Contagion, with room perhaps for another trip to the QFT to see We Need To Talk About Kevin. Incidentally, I watched Bela Tarr's Damnation last night, and was struck at how engrossed I was in Tarr's highly unconventional film stylistics. As a breather from contemporary cinema, I suggest you take a look.

Alright, so here we have the fifth film in The Fast and the Furious film series, Fast Five. To put things into context, I really liked the first film, released in 2001 for it's terrific action sequences and Vin Diesel, who I feel really should have went to do better things, particularly after 2002's xXx, a highly underrated action flick also directed by Rob Cohen. Flashforward eight years, with both Cohen and Diesel having had a string of critical and commercial flops, and we get Fast & Furious, the fourth film in the series, which was sold on the idea of reuniting the original cast. Now, Fast & Furious was a terrible film that in a different world would have been a parody of the original, so if I'm honest I wasn't looking forward to Fast Five. After being busted out of a prison van in a suitably ridiculous crash (at least a news report acknowledges the absurdity of no one being killed), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and friend Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), now fugitives on the run, escape to Rio de Janeiro, where they hide out with friend Vince (Matt Schulze), and end up doing a job stealing three cars on a train. However, after discovering the other participants are only interested in one car, Dom has Mia steal it. Now, with both the law, in the form of DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and the criminal world, headed up by crime lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the crew discover in the car a computer chip giving them details to Reyes' criminal empire, and decide to steal his personal vault, containing $100 million.

To start with what is good about the film, I must flag up the film's central concept. I may have missed numbers two and three, but judging from Fast & Furious the concept of guys and their cars was well-worn. It was a wise decision in the pre-production process to go with a heist film, as it makes Fast Five feel unique in this canon of films. This is the kind of refresher that the series really needed, and it pays off in the finished product. Speaking of refreshers, lets talk about Dwayne Johnson. Now, if I'm honest, the former Rock has had a bit of a mixed career in films, having some decent supporting/cameo roles in Get Smart and The Other Guys, but also being lead in the mediocre Tooth Fairy and the truly messy Richard Kelly regurgitation-presented-as-film Southland Tales. In Fast Five, he gets his best screen role to date in Luke Hobbs. From the moment that he enters the film, you know that once Hobbs is on the scene, shit is going to go down. Johnson's presence and charisma give the character a genuine sense of machismo that reminds you of the better work of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Every time, Hobbs was in a scene, I got goosebumps, Johnson's pure intensity in the part fuels the testosterone-charged atmosphere that the film is getting at. Furthermore, because of Johnson's skill here, you buy him as a legitimate threat to Vin Diesel's Toretto, a character that in the series eye' could well be seen as invincible. Diesel too I must say is good in the film. It must be said though that he really shines in the face-off scenes between he and Johnson. Also, I must credit the film's technical aspects, particularly in relation to the action scenes. The production scouts have done a good job in finding good locations, and they are captured with a deft eye for strong images by Stephen F. Windon. Unlike Amir Mokri, who shot Fast & Furious, Windon actually lets you see what is going on, whilst maintaing a high level of intensity. This is important as the chase scenes in this film are the best I have since Inception last year. If there is one positive about the series as a whole, it's that they maintain a tradition of chase films that are a bit of a dying breed today. They have been expertly choreography by film's stunt team, each scene topping the other, the climactic chase easily up there with among the best chase' in film history. Trust me, they really are that good. Justin Lin directs these scenes as good as they were bad in Fast & Furious: this time, we can see what is going on, we can see who is driving what car, so that, amidst the madness and chaos, we do know what is happening. Finally, Fast Five is also a film that knows it's history, and is far more self-aware than previous instalments. Thankfully, as opposed to stupid breaking-of-the-fourth-wall or obscure little in-jokes, it does this in a fun manner that manages to engage its audience.

Fast Five was a real surprise to me in terms of just how much I liked it. However, there are a number of problems with the film. Let's start with the script. The central idea of 'heist film' is strong and refreshing, but there are a lot of issues here. For starters, there is some really woeful dialogue, especially when the movie starts to take itself a little too seriously. I liked some of the more tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted stuff in the film, but when the film shifts mode into 'there's something more this than (FILL IN BLANK),' it ends up being melodramatic in the worst ways possible. Also, at two hours and five minutes, with way too many twists and turns in the plot, it becomes unnecessarily convoluted, contrived and long. This film could have been cut by twenty-thirty minutes to even out the folds. While I praised Dwayne Johnson's presence in the film, has scene-stealing performance only highlights all the more the limits of Paul Walker's. Walker was very good in the original, and served as a great counteract to Vin Diesel. The way that Fast & Furious was written, being 'the return of Dom Toretto' and all, made Paul Walker second fiddle. Here, he's even less than second fiddle, and it means that one of the film's lead actors gives a performance that's like Keanu Reeves when he is on a very bad day (P.S. I do like Keanu). Diesel's role in the ensemble is the cool guy, Johnson's is the badass mofo, while Walker's is the boring guy. Finally, I do have a problem with Brian Tyler's score. He is becoming akin to Alesandre Desplat, in that he is a composer of skill who just continues to churn out boring, cliched nonsense. He did great scores to Frailty and Bubba Ho-tep, so why do I hear this cashed-in set of compositions every time he steps foot in the action film department. He needs to not follow the rulebook (even if it is his own) for a change, because it is exactly what you would expect. Look Brian, what's that, a villain? Ooh, we must have an instrumental cue that indicates that he is villainous. Eyes open Tyler, it's a scene of emotion, we must bring in strings and a piano, cause everyone knows from every other film they have ever seen that these instruments indicate emotion. Please Brian, give us a break!

This film contains a messy script. This film contains a poor performance from Paul Walker. This film contains a shoddy score. However, for all its problems, in a manner not unlike the Jason Statham film Blitz, Fast Five is a good movie. For a change, I can see where exactly a major blockbuster's budget has went. Some of the best car chases in recent memory are to be found in this film, directed well by Justin Lin. It also helps that the cinematography is done in such a manner that you do know what is going on and the camera is not just being shook to shit. Finally, in the context of what was a stagnant series, Fast Five is a real refresher. Transforming (eugh, hate what the word reminds me of!) the established series format in that of a heist film, and the addition of Dwayne Johnson to the main cast, who from reports on the upcoming sixth film is to return, ensure that there is still life yet in this series.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Glad (when I get to bed)

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