The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Directed by Rob Cohen
Written by Gary Scott Thompson and Erik Bergquist and David Ayer

Wow, almost 20 years old. Who would have thought that in 2020, we would look at one of the most successful movie franchises going and look back at the start almost two decades ago!? It’s truly a testament to the longevity of the series and how the creators have curated it through the many iterations. With this first installment, I am curious to explore what worked so well that it might blossom into this money making machine, still going all these years later. Having come in and out of the series myself, I won’t be able to comment on the complete evolution until I make my way through all ten titles on the docket, but I will be fascinated to track the progress through its history, especially tracing back to this original installment, which I remember liking quite a bit, but not having seen in some time.

Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is a good driver, and as such, the FBI has asked him to infiltrate the underworld of street racing in Los Angeles in order to identify who is behind a recent string of highway robberies of semi-trucks carrying valuable goods. O’Connor, working undercover, gets into the good graces of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who appears to run this underworld. Brian becomes a part of the “family” (Michelle Rodriguez, Chad Lindberg, Matt Schulze), and even begins to fall for Toretto’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and trust Dom himself. After a failed raid on a rival gang (Rick Yune), the FBI begins to doubt O’Connor’s resolve, just as Brian begins to doubt Torreto’s innocence.

The first thing that struck me about The Fast and the Furious was how stylish this movie was, in a very 2001 way. Yeah, looking back 20 years ago, the clothing, and even the car styles are all kind of funny: the bright colors, the Honda Civics. When one thinks of cool cars, you might think classic American muscle. At least I do. But director Rob Cohen does a great job at delving us deep into this street racing scene with all the gearheads and their exciting, bright and shiny cars. The first race scene is superb, bringing us inside the “cockpit” for that brief quarter mile/10 seconds. Sure, you can quip that the scene is way longer, but by elongating that experience, we get the same adrenaline rush as the drivers, fighting for, as Brian puts it, “respect”.

Some of the more problematic things about the movie are certainly the acting from, well, most of the cast. It’s apparent early on that Paul Walker is a dweeb parading around like a cool guy, and maybe that is part of his performance, but for a lead to be that bland is problematic. However, Vin Diesel has star power right away. His performance is a little rough around the edges, but he makes up for it with his charisma, which helps carry the movie behind Torreto, who is the most complex and interesting character in the film. Both his performance, and the way the story is wrapped around his character, really lift the film from standard cool action movie with little depth to something a little more. Without the casting of Vin Diesel as Dom, I doubt if this series ever really gets going.

I will certainly be curious to see where the series builds from here, having not seen at least the next two films in the series. I can see how tagging along with Dom and Brian could be a fun adventure, and likely how these films became so successful in the first place. But having seen 5 and 7 in the series as well, I am also a little perplexed as to how the franchise becomes this action giant on the scene, as The Fast and the Furious was an otherwise very grounded film. Sure the characters and even some of the cars are a little cartoonish, but the gritty crime story and drama on the streets type of narrative found in this film, which is a large reason I liked it as much as I did, don’t seem to fit with what I know of the rest of the franchise to this point. It will be a fun adventure to find out how it gets there.

★★★★★☆ – LOVED IT

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