The Review: Can it really be ten years since Rob Cohen gave us The Fast And The Furious? It seems so long ago now that it’s difficult to remember what it was all about all those years ago, and as the series has gone on it’s become more and more removed from those humble beginnings. Sorry, did I say humble? I meant to say outlandish, garish and injected directly into your eyeballs. Very much style over substance, it did see Vin Diesel at the height of his early career (and, for that matter, Paul Walker, but since his career has consisted almost entirely of these movies, that’s maybe a little misleading), and they seemed to be heading the way of almost every other diminishing returns franchise. Then something strange happened: Justin Lin, director of the third movie in the series, also got the fourth and persuaded both Walker and Diesel to return for the first time together since the original, he widened the scope of the movie and took it away from street racing a little, and it romped to the biggest opening weekend in April in US box office history, and the biggest take of the franchise. So Fast Five does what every good big budget sequel does, and takes those successful elements and cranks them up a couple of notches.
This time, then, rather than just Walker and Diesel (and Jordana Brewster as Walker’s girlfriend and Diesel’s sister), pretty much everyone who’s had a speaking part and is still alive among the good guys is back. Indeed, death is not an obstacle, as one of the crew died in the third outing, Tokyo Drift, making this a sequel to the prequel to that film. Still paying attention? Well don’t worry, the movie opens directly where the fourth one finished, just in case you’ve forgotten (I had) and from there the pace doesn’t let up, at least for the first half an hour or so. Now on the same team again, Brian O’Connor and Dominic Toretto attempt to pull a job in Brazil, which goes wrong, so to get the bad guys and the cops off their backs they attempt one last job, which requires the intervention of the whole crew. But remember that job before the last job that went wrong? That’s attracted the attention of the Feds, and when they want someone caught (not that often, it would seem), there’s only one man they call for.
Special Agent Brian Hobbs. Better known to us, of course, as Dwayne Johnson, and even better known as The Rock. The testosterone is ramped up to hitherto unprecedented and frankly dangerous levels, and most of the middle of the movie consists of planning, scheming and a fair bit of posturing. The series has survived and thrived by evolving, so street racing is almost now an afterthought – you get one, and even that’s glossed over fairly quickly, and a second happens off-screen – and Fast Five comes over as the mutant love-child of Heat and Ocean’s Eleven, set in Rio. The cop / criminal face-off in which no-one gets arrested, the massively weighty cast, and even a high-powered shoot-out in the favelas all call to mind a dumbed-down version of Michael Mann’s finest, but the nature of the heist itself, some tricky reversals and the dialogue all give mind to a similarly low rent version of Steven Soderbergh’s movies.
Yes, the dialogue. Let’s test your level of potential interest for Fast Five. If quotes such as “This just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission: In-freakin’-sanity” or “Sexy legs, baby, what time do they open?”, at which point said sexy legs owner pulls a gun on their admirer, don’t put a giant smile on your face at the sheer dumb bravado of it all, then this is not the film for you. Similarly, if you’re not impressed by films that defy the laws of physics, ignore the fact that to pull this job, our heroes have a seemingly limitless supply of cash or that people swap sides almost at will, then this also isn’t the film for you. But if you’re looking for one of the most enjoyably simple, ridiculously hyped action movies of this or any other summer, then step right in. There’s a ten minute sequence around an hour and a half in where it all takes itself far too seriously, but other than that this will slap a big cheesy grin on your face and keep it there right through to the extended finale and a credits sequence that twists the franchise into the shape ready for its next inevitable outing. Fast Five features some of the most wanton destruction ever committed to celluloid, and if you’re looking for a way to disengage your brain ready for the summer season, then look no further.
Why see it at the cinema: The action scenes are what modern cinemas were made for, with director Lin making the finale look like Bad Boys 2 times The Blues Brothers in terms of carnage, and there’s plenty of sweeping vistas to make the most of the screen. It’s also the closest to a party atmosphere you’ll get in the cinema this early in the summer.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: I reckon, if hard pushed, we could all remember a particular dream we’d had at some point in our lives. Our brains, for some as yet unknown reason, go off on flights of fancy while we’re asleep, and some we can remember as clearly as events that have happened to us. When I was just a child, I had a dream that Tim Brooke-Taylor, ostensibly one of the gentlest men in show business, beat me up in my back garden. I once dreamed for two weeks solid, and in every dream everyone in that dream had a dog with them. I once stood on the runway of an airport and watched as a 747 crashed and exploded at the other end. And I once had a dream that I was in a purple room with no doors or windows, and that I was hungry.
What our subconscious is doing, rather than giving us Daliesque landscapes to run about in with four headed giraffes and unlimited naked orgies (although if you are dreaming that, well done and can I come and live in your head?), is giving us variants on the world we know, grounded in reality but extrapolated further. What Christopher Nolan has seen is the potential to play around in your head, but assuming your head is the extrapolated reality dream world, and not the Dali-giraffe-orgy one. So if you’ve heard that this is a David Lynch-like study of what the potential of dreams are, then you’ve heard wrong. Dreams are merely the canvas for what Nolan is attempting to construct.
I can only assume that he reads and studies Heath Robinson and M.C. Escher during the day, then eats a fair bit of cheese before bedtime, because what he has constructed is an intricate and complex adventure within that space. Into that world, he’s deposited one of the finest rosters of actors since The Dark Knight (and some Nolan regulars, including Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine get varying length turns here), but although most of them, especially the lesser known such as Tom Hardy, shine with what they’re given, the movie is anchored around Leonardo DiCaprio. Aged 35 and finally starting to show it, this and Shutter Island have seen his acting achieve a new level of nuance recently and he’s comfortably able to take the weight of the emotional hooks the movie hangs on him.
There are two key women in DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb’s life, Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), and it’s his interactions with the two that drive the plot forward. And here’s where any attempts to explain said plot are likely to come off as completely futile, even if they weren’t likely to spoil things. This is a global movie, filmed in seven countries on four continents, and once it’s established the basic rules in the first fifteen minutes, it starts running and almost never stops. It’s a heist movie, but that’s about all you get to ground you; then the rules are gradually layered on over the next hour or so until we’re in a world completely of Nolan’s construction, at which point he launches the key heist.
A key trope of horror movies, occasionally edging into science fiction, is that of the dream within the dream. Wake up and you then realise you’re still dreaming. What Nolan has done is take this a stage further; debates rage about the merits of 3D when it comes to the visual dimensions, but what Inception does is take the dimensions through the plot, and specifically through the heist that forms the last hour or more of the movie. So you get Bond movie, sci-fi action, conventional action movie and even psychological thriller, with all of them running at the same time but at different rates, and events in the levels filtering up and down. It’s a five dimensional action movie, done for the most part without the ridiculous over-cranking of a Michael Bay, and in that sense it’s never less than brilliant.
But there are concepts and ideas running through this that, once your pulse has steadied from the action beats, will try to engage your mind. The emotions of the movie are all wrapped up in that dimension – there is a huge depth of emotion here, but in the same way as the secrets that the character’s minds lock away, it’s not immediately accessible and you will be required to fully open yourself up to the experience to get the most from it. Thankfully, the quality of the direction, acting, editing and script will allow you to do that if you’re willing. And just to show he’s not tired of it, having done a whole movie by giving us layered variations on what we’ve seen before, he takes another route. Not the deliberate cliff-hangers of his Batman movies, or the twisty-turniness of Memento or The Prestige, here we get the debate ending. A simple choice from the last shot which will define you and what you want to take from the movie, and is bound to generate healthy pub debate for as long as Inception is watched, whether that be ten minutes or fifty years.
Why see it at the cinema: This is bold, thought-provoking cinema at its action-oriented best, and it was intended to be seen in the cinema. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the reaction of your fellow cinema-goers to the final shot is worth the price of admission alone.
The Score: 10/10