What to Watch: Pulling the Job of All Jobs with Family in ‘Fast Five’ (2011)

Fast Five is a 2011 action movie about a squad of criminals on the run in Rio de Janiero looking to buy their freedom by stealing from the richest man in the city, all while evading an elite special forces unit.

It’s easy to forget that there was once a time in which the Fast and Furious franchise wasn’t arguably the biggest action franchise and definitive cash cow that it is now.  However, “B.F.F.” (Before Fast Five) is a thing. Before April 29th, 2011, the street racing franchise often did good box office numbers while typically failing critically, with The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift serving as a low point for many fans. Fast and Furious 2009 slowly started to nudge the series into what we know it to be today in big, physics-defying set pieces, but Fast Five completely flips the switch and has never went in reverse since. 

THE STORY: Fast Five begins right where Fast & Furious left off, with former FBI agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) leading an attack on a bus transporting friend and brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to Lompac federal prison. The successful breakout and those who staged it make national headlines.

The three are forced to flee out of the states to Rio de Janeiro, where they run into corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who isn’t the guy to cross. But, their options are limited, pushing Dom and Brian to an idea: To get their freedom, they must steal from the man who runs Rio. It isn’t going to be easy, and it will require the help of past friends Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Leo (Tego Calderon), and Santos (Don Omar). But if successful, the crew will net $100 million. Dealing with Reyes and his mercenaries is serious business as is, but throw in the relentless special forces agent looking to nail the crew in Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the job is, in Roman’s words: “Mission infreaking sanity.”

Fast Five
Fast Five, 2011 © Universal Pictures

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: No person has done more for the F&F franchise than director Justin Lin. Yes, he directed Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious, two films that often rank near the bottom of the series to most aficionados, but even in those films, there is a lot of good on the directorial side of things. As the series evolved and improved, so does Lin’s directorial skills. Fast Five features a myriad of unique and large-scaled action set-pieces, from a thrilling train robbery less than 10 minutes in, to the bonkers and now legendary vault sequence in the climax. Peppered throughout are smaller-yet-substantial scenes of smaller variety, which we’ll get to. Regardless, all of them are shot the way action is supposed to be shot: Wide and clear. The shift in story location to Rio (a good amount of the film is shot in Brazil) is a bold choice and one that pays off, giving Fast Five a level of freshness and authenticity, even on multiple re-watches. Another thing to look for? Diversity. In a Hollywood that often comes under siege for not having people of color and different backgrounds represented enough, the Fast series has always been at the forefront in showcasing people who don’t look like the norm. 

Fast FIve
Fast Five, 2011 © Universal Pictures

A GREAT MOMENT: Too many to list. There’s the aforementioned train car heist, the vault ripping through every inch of Rio (easily a top 5 action sequence of this decade), the rooftop foot chase through the favelas, the introduction of Luke Hobbs into the franchise, and Dom versus Hobbs going mano-a-mano through glass, walls, and cars.

But, I’m going to go with another moment, the night before robbing Reyes that consists of family and the Dom Toretto speech, known as the “Salud, mi familia” moment. Family has kind of become a dirty and memeable word of late in the Fast and Furious franchise, but Fast Five encapsulates everything right about it. Dom’s words about money coming and going but the bonds they’ve forged remaining forever is surprisingly tender and prophetic – both in the F&F universe – and outside of it with the passing of Paul Walker. Lin does a great job of filming this, too, doing the semi-slow pan that The Avengers made iconic a year later. In a way, Fast Five is The Avengers before The Avengers happened, bringing together all-stars from the previous four movies and linking everyone up for something big. Fast Five carries more emotion than one might think. As ridiculed as these movies have been, the amount of them has created opportunities for audiences to learn and grow with these characters, making these smaller moments (another great one has Brian asking Dom about his father after Brian is unsure about how to be a father when learning about Mia being pregnant) more poignant. The cast sells this sense of family as well; they all (to that point) had nothing but wonderful things to say about working with each other and it shows in their collective chemistry.

Fast Five
Fast Five, 2011 © Universal Pictures

THE TALLY: Known as the transitional film in the series, Fast Five is also the best in the series, combining great character moments with inventive action sequences. It is one of the best action films of the decade, and it is what to watch.