There have been few franchises in the 2000’s that have been more successful than the Fast & Furious films. Over nine films (eight of which set in the main cast plus last years Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw), each movie has been more successful than the last. Had F9, which was delayed to 2021 due to COVID, been released this year, it would have easily been one of the ten highest-grossing movies of the year. But not only have the movies gotten more successful, there came a point where the franchise dramatically improved in quality.
That point was 2011’s Fast Five.
Director Justin Lin’s third film in the franchise (with F9, Lin has directed five F&Fs) absolutely redefines what the films are. Over 130 minutes, he turns these films, which had been almost entirely about small-stakes racing, into films with massive stakes and even more insane action sequences. There’s no better way to explain the differences than this: Fast Five involves a heist where the stakes are 100 million dollars, while in the first film, the opening action heist involves the stealing of… electronic equipment. Like DVD players.
But it’s not just the stakes that are increased in Fast Five. This is the film which increases the cast dramatically, marking the first appearances of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and bumping Ludacris and Tyrese to regular franchise members (they had both been in previous films, but their roles now increase dramatically). These films are no longer just about driving. Lin has mixed in elements of Mission: Impossible with these films. In fact, by the next film, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their merry band of thieves are not even bad guys any more as they team up with Luke Hobbs (Johnson) to work for the United States government- though Walker was barely a bad guy in the franchise, only retiring from his role as an FBI agent at the end of the fourth film.
Precision drivers to master thieves to super-cops… there’s nothing they can’t do. And, in Fast Five, they do it with the best action sequence in an American movie from the last decade.
Before we get to this amazing sequence, let’s get you caught up on what is happening in the film.
In the previous film (Fast & Furious, not to be confused with the first film, The Fast & The Furious), expert driver and criminal with a heart of gold Dominic Toretto is sentenced to jail for a bevy of crimes despite the plea for clemency by Brian O’Conner for all the help he has done for both O’Conner, personally, and the government case Brian was working on in the last film. Brian quits the FBI, and Fast Five begins with him and his girlfriend, Toretto’s sister Mia (Jordanna Brewster) rescuing Dominic (hereby known as “Dom”) by using their cars to waylay the transport bus.
Having escaped to Rio, O’Conner and the Toretto siblings take part in a heist which involves stealing three cars from a moving train. The heist goes sideways as one of the fellow heist henchmen attempt to betray the three (and their friend Vince) by trying to steal the car for himself and also shooting two DEA agents in the process. O’Conner and the Torettos find themselves hunted by multiple parties- the owner of the car was Hernan Reyes (Joaquim De Almeida), a ruthless Brazilian drug lord who had hidden a flash drive with the location of all of his financial holdings, while Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs is sent to bring the three to justice for the death of the DEA agents.
Dom’s plan? Steal all of Reyes’ money (which totals $100 million) and flee to a non-extradition country. To do this, they need a team, so they assemble their Ocean’s Eleven-esque crew: computer whiz Tej (Ludacris), conman Roman (Tyrese), weapons expert Gisele (Gadot), street racer Han (Sung Kang, first scene in the franchise’s Tokyo Drift entry), and Leo and Santos (musicians Tego Calderon & Don Omar), who apparently are just around for comic relief. It should be known that all of these people are, apparently, also expert drivers, including Mia, who chooses to somehow also be a computer wizard because she is sitting out of the heist due to being pregnant with Brian’s child.
From here, the action moves quickly (fast) and with aggression (furious): After attacking one of his ten safe houses, the team forces Reyes (whom apparently has most of Rio’s corrupt police department in his pocket) to stockpile the rest of his money all in a vault in police headquarters. Dom’s team steals some police cars to help them be more inconspicuous, and prepare their heist. The day of the heist, the team is captured by Hobbs. However, on their transport to an airport, Reyes’ men attack the transport, killing all of Hobbs’ DSS team. Hobbs and the lone non-corrupt cop in Rio (Elsa Pataky’s Elena), seeking vengeance against Reyes, agree to help Dom, Brian, and their team.
The group bust into the police station with Hobbs crashing his Hummer into a wall exposing the safe. Both Dom and Brian, driving Dodge Chargers, hook chains from their cars to the safe.
And we’re off to the races.
Ok, so this is where things get frustrating.
I’m unable to find one long Youtube clip that puts the whole scene together, so I’m going to have to break it up into chunks. I would suggest that you either rent the film from Youtube or watch it on HBOMax, because this sequence is an amazing blend of insane car nonsense, fun with physics, and just a demonstration on how Lin is one of the best action directors working today.
Here is the first part of the heist, with Dom and Brian breaking the vault free and driving it around downtown Rio de Janeiro. I encourage you to watch this, but let’s point out some of the major highlights, with timestamps as they relate to the clip:
1:35- The moment where the safe finally comes free. I remember the first time watching this. This is going to sound stupid, but I just remember thinking, “There’s no way this is going to work. There’s just no fucking way these guys are going to move a safe HOLY SHIT! THEY’RE DOING IT!”
2:01- I have no idea how accurate the physics are in this stunt sequence, planned out by the brilliant stunt director (Spiro Razatos) and stunt coordinator (Jack Gill). But, as Dom and Brian turn out of the police station into the street, the vault takes a wide turn, temporarily lifting one of the cars as it smashes into pylons and flips over and over. It feels unplanned and unexpected, and this is when you start to realize that even though this whole thing is totally fucking ridiculous, Lin is going to make it feel real. This is proven again around the 2:33 mark as the vault slams into a tree as the two take a turn.
3:17- In order for the team to avoid tire spikes, they have to take a right turn instead of their planned left. This leads to the first police car getting destroyed, as well as the front display of a local bank. This reminds me of the sequence in The Blues Brothers where they’re trying to flee the police by driving through the mall, only it’s two cars and they’re towing a fucking vault.
3:40- Mia, running comms for the boys and monitoring police frequencies, asks them, “Did you just take out a bank?” This seems unnecessary. Let your brother and baby daddy focus on driving. Also, what’s the best possible response they could give at this time? “Maybe?”
4:08- Ok, this is definitely a contender for the coolest crash in the whole sequence. With police speeding towards them, Dom and Brian each split off and brake hard, causing the vault to shoot between them and fucking smash into a police car and damaging another. We are now at three destroyed police cars, but that’s ok, because here come the police motorcycles. Apparently Rio’s police department is very well funded. It makes sense they got the Olympics in 2016.
4:20- Here’s some badass driving. Dom speeds ahead with the vault in tow, but because the vault is also attached to Brian’s Charger, he is currently in the caboose and facing the opposite direction. O’Connell backs into the vault and drives backwards as Toretto takes the lead.
4:45- In these movies, so much is made of the Alpha Dog status of Vin Diesel as Toretto. He never loses a fight or a race, kicking every ass and taking every name. Even earlier in the movie, when Brian beats Dom, Han, and Roman in a street race, it’s made very clear that the only reason O’Connell is the victor is because Toretto lets him win, taking his foot off the brake at the last minute second.
However, in this exchange, it’s Brian that is doing all of the impressive driving. Speeding backwards while being shot at, O’Connell determines that enough is enough, slamming on the brake and causing one of the police bikes to slam into his car (another CCC- coolest crash contender) and causing another to wipe out (DESTROYED VEHICLE COUNT: 5). What is Dom doing this whole time? Just driving forwards.
5:05- I cannot oversell the amazing driving that Brian is doing. While driving backwards, he speeds from behind the vault, pulls the emergency brake, spins around, and joins Dom in driving forward. Again, Toretto has just driven forwards this whole time.
5:34- Here we have another CCC; Brian jumps the curb, driving into oncoming traffic, causing the massive vault to wipe out trees and electrical poles. One of the poles slams on top of a police car and another hits the ground causing an SUV (the RIO PD has a lot of different types of vehicles- where is their chopper?) to flip over, while a police car attempting to avoid the flip slams into a parked car (DESTROYED VEHICLE COUNT: 8). Here, again, is where Lin is masterful, allowing just enough time to watch this final collision, though inconsequential to the chase. But even as Lin cuts away, we’re still aware of where everyone is in the overall scene.
There’s a great moment that happens right after this which shows why Walker is such an asset to this scene. Looking in his rearview mirror, he gets this big, dopey grin. It partly feels like his character is amazed by what is happening, but it also kind of feels like Walker, the actor, is just thinking, “Can you believe I’m getting paid for this shit?”
That’s the end of this clip… let’s move to the second.
Ok. we’re back. It should be noted that because these clips aren’t uploaded by the same source, the first 45 seconds (or so) is the last 45 seconds of the last video.
1:00- Here’s one of those things where the police are written as deliberately stupid. Here you are chasing two cars pulling a fucking vault filled with $100 million dollars and there are still police who think they should drive as close to them as possible. Toretto swerves one way, causing the vault to knock a police car up on the sidewalk, then swerves the other way, slamming a tree into a cop car (another CCC). The car on the curb continues to give chase FROM THE SIDEWALK, and I hope someone will report that car, because it seems like wild public endangerment to be speeding on the sidewalk while firing your weapon. However, O’Connell swerves, causing more vehicles to fly up on the curb, and our destroyed vehicle count is now 10.
1:45- A police car pulls alongside Toretto, shotgun aimed out the window. However, Han, in one of the stolen police cars, rams into that car, then brakes, causing another car to slam into him while another car gets into an accident swerving to avoid the mess. Roman takes out three cars of his own, earning his own CCC as he slams a police SUV into a parked car causing it to strike another police SUV. Our destroyed vehicle count is 16. Also, the cops are shooting a ton. Don’t these motherfuckers care about paperwork at all?
4:45- Ok. We’ve lost three minutes because of some dialogue and context. Worried that there are too many police (as well as Reyes and his goons), Brian suggests they lose the vault. However, Dom only cuts Brian’s cable, causing him to speed away. Dom now spins around and begins headed towards his attacking swarm, which is a very Vin Diesel thing of him to do.
4:57- After a bit of swerving, Dom causes a police car to run head-on into a vault. It’s definitely a CCC.
5:00- Dom is now in the destruction zone, hitting another car with the vault and taking out another
5:06- Another head-on collision with a police cruiser. If you’re the police, maybe you just steer away from the giant vault careening at you.
5:11- This is where we’re achieving maximum damage, as Dom causes the vault to knock one of Reyes’ goons and a police car off (CCC) of the bridge they’re on. I feel like if you were watching this with Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, he’d be telling you how this really couldn’t happen, and you would be trying to switch seats.
5:25- Add two more to the destroyed vehicle count (we’re now at 24). Another vault-on-car collision. It seems like these would get boring, but each one is still fucking awesome. However, we have a hardcore CCC as the cable connecting the car and the vault takes off the top of the SUV. Whoever does the insurance paperwork for Rio PD has to be PISSED right now.
5:36- As Toretto speeds towards the car with Reyes in it, you can tell that Thanos would be psyched because we are in the fucking endgame right now. Reyes’ goon is in an SUV which pulls a gatling gun out of the sunroof, which I do not remember being offered as an extra feature when my wife and I bought our Kia Sorrento earlier this year. Dom slams the vault into two more cars, with a CCC as an SUV flies into the air off the bridge.
5:46- It’s just Dom, the SUV with Reyes, and the vehicle with the gatling gun. In a fantastic act of physics, Toretto spins sideways, causing the vault to skip over Reyes’ car and slam into the SUV. Then, the momentum lifts Dom’s car into the air and has it slam down into Reyes’ car.
And with that, our scene is over. 31 vehicles destroyed, if you include Toretto’s Charger, 12 of them in the last minute and all caused by Vin Diesel.
I hope you watched these clips (or found the whole movie and checked it out) with the same sense of awe and wonderment that I did. Let’s do some quick post-game recap.
I’m gonna call the Coolest Crash as a tie. From the first clip, I’m awarding the first time a car slammed head-on with the vault, which actually caused me to gasp. From the second clip, I love the SUV that flips a few times before falling off of the bridge. Congrats, Rio officers, you really fucked those cars up.
Also, no matter what anyone says, there’s no way, based on this sequence alone, that Brian O’Connell isn’t a better driver than Dominic Toretto. Dom may have let him win the race and has the impressive ending sequence. But Brian is out-driving him in every aspect in this sequence. Also, he knocked up Dom’s sister.
Sorry, Dom… your status as alpha is no more.