Monday, July 29, 2013

A Good Community Pursues Its Lost Sheep (Fast and Furious 6)

If you haven’t seen the previous five movies in the Fast and Furious series, allow me to break them down for you. People drive cars quickly.

That’s pretty much it.

As such, I originally intended to hate these movies with the fire of a thousand pretentious suns, but I couldn’t quite manage it. Why? Well for all that they’re exceptionally simple, they’re also good. Weird, I know, but true. The Fast and Furious movies are genuinely enjoyable entertainment. Not only that, but the characters are fully realized, well rounded people, with flaws and motivations, and storylines that carry on from film to film. You get attached, and you truly care about their fates.

All of this is to say that I have seen the sixth movie in the franchise, and not only did I enjoy it, I actually thought it was a pretty good movie. And a lot of that, most of it, to be honest, is because of the way it deals with its characters. Specifically, I love this movie, because it is all about a community pursuing its lost sheep.

But let me explain.

Way back in Fast and Furious 1, or just The Fast and the Furious as it was called then, we got to know a guy named Dom (Vin Diesel). Dom was a mechanic, thief, illegal car racer, and all around upstanding guy. I don’t even really mean that sarcastically. While we knew that Dom was breaking the law, we also knew why he was doing it. And we knew that while he might view the law as a matter of opinion, he held his family in high honor.

I won’t go into the details of what happens in all the films of the series, but the basic gist is this: Dom’s crew is a family. They love and care for each other, and when one of them is lost, they grieve together.

This loss occurs in the third film, with the death of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Fast forward to this movie (the sixth), and we find out that not only is she not dead, she’s now working for the bad guys, and has no idea who she is. So Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) and the whole crew gather up to go save her, and maybe the world in the process.

It’s a giant popcorn ball of a movie once you get into the specifics – the plot is unnecessarily complex and the acting occasionally wooden, the setpieces are ridiculous in the best possible way, and there are so many muscles and muscle cars on the screen I thought I was going to overdose on testosterone. But. I really really loved it.

Now, part of that is because as a franchise and as an individual film it doesn’t flinch at the idea of having strong female characters. And not just one. Like a whole host of them, who talk to each other, fight with each other, and drive cars just as well as the boys. Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, and Gina Carano are just a few of the awesome ladies in this one, and I enjoyed the crap out of that.

But this movie is really about that lost sheep, so let’s get back to that.

The story kicks off when The Rock’s character, whose name is irrelevant, finds a semi-retired Dom and tells him that Letty is still alive. Dom is immediately sure that he wants to go after her, no matter what she’s into, so he agrees to help The Rock catch this super amazing thief she’s with, on the condition that Letty goes free.

The Rock agrees, but insists that Dom gather up his old team. In exchange, the whole team gets immunity and return to the States (they’ve committed rather a lot of crimes in the previous films and are mostly hiding in countries without extradition treaties). Dom’s big concern is that Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster) have just had a baby, and he doesn’t want Brian to get back into the life. But he won’t make the choice for him.

And, of course, Brian accepts. At first you think it’s just bad writing – to give the character a reason to come home and then make them all selfless and insist that they go on the mission anyways. But actually it’s quite good, despite my earlier assumptions that Brian would die on the way in a tragic yet heartwarming scene.

You see, for this whole plot to work, a plot that is in a lot of places very silly and convoluted, you have to believe one thing. You have to believe, completely, that Dom and Brian and the whole crew would do absolutely anything to get Letty back. Not because they can’t let go, but because she’s family. She’s a part of their community, and they never abandon one of their own.

This motivation has to be crazy strong because it’s the backbone of the entire story. When they get to London and start going about stopping the bad guy, they discover that Letty has no idea who they are. She has no idea who she is. All she knows is that she loves cars, and she feels like there’s something missing.

I’m going to spoil it a little bit here, but it’s not awful, don’t worry.

Letty never remembers who she is. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time, really good. It would have been too easy if suddenly she knew them. If she could just flip a switch and know who they were. She doesn’t. But she does come around anyways, for a very simple reason.

This community, this family, pursues her with a single-minded passion that breaks through any barriers she might have even considered erecting. They love her even when she shoots them. Even when her boss tries to kill them. Even when they realize that she has no idea who they are.

She goes with them in the end not because she knows them, but because she wants to. And that, I think, is arguably the most powerful message the movie could have sent.

It’s easy to look at our families and our friends with the thought that we’ve known them for so long that we might as well just go on being friends. That it’s not a choice anymore, but that our friendship is a fact.

Well, it isn’t.

As it turns out, friendship, family, and community are choices, ones that must be made daily and continually, both by the individual and by the community at large. The crew chooses to pursue Letty even though they know she may never accept them again. Letty chooses to make her home with them, even though she doesn’t know them. Love is a choice, and it’s the most important one we can make.

I love this movie because even though it’s silly and full of car chases, explosions, and really cheesy dialogue, it’s true. We all want to be pursued like Letty is. We want our communities to love us that much, and value us not for what we can offer, but for who we are. I love this movie because it makes me happy. And because the ending was so perfect – not fully happy, not fully sad, but honest – that it made me cry.

In a movie theater. Full of people there to see a Fast and Furious movie. So you better bet it was good.


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