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Need for Speed is somewhat of a modern marvel. Here is a film that is centered around extreme car racing, a very visual concept, but with a complete lack of computer generated imagery. It’s propulsive filmmaking, driven by a passion for in-camera effects. Unfortunately, this is about all the film has going for it. Based on a videogame, the story amounts to getting from Point A to Point B, with far less concern over narrative momentum with sensory momentum.
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, whose defining characteristics involve being good with cars, and um…I think that’s about it. After being wrongly convicted of killing one of his best friends, Tobey spends two years I prison, only to immediately find himself in a precarious financial position on release. This leads to him attempting to get from New York to California in just under two days so that he can enter a legendarily impossible race. Sprinkle in a quest for revenge for the murder he didn’t commit, along with some wacky antics involving his team, and that’s the movie.
Borrowing from the Fast and Furious playbook, Tobey’s team is like a family to him. They are all likeable people, but almost entirely ciphers. They exist to serve as plot mechanics, and nothing more. As the film progresses, his team all end up playing their parts in some incredible action sequences, but none that truly exist in service of a plot. Highlights of the film involve filling the gas tank while driving, jumping four lanes of traffic, and having an entire vehicle airlifted across a giant chasm. While amazing on a technical level, none of these are crucial to the already thin story being told.
I know that it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie, but I really did. There is something to be said for watching a movie strictly to experience the whiz-bang spectacle of it all. With every rev of the engine, every car spinout, and every impeccably choreographed car chase, I found myself on the edge of myself, caught up in this world of vehicular mayhem. There are stunts in this film unlike anything you have ever seen, and are unlikely to see again for a very long time.
In watching the Blu-Ray extras, it is extremely apparent that all involved knew and understood what kind of movie they were making. There is no discussion about any narrative decisions in any of the bonus features, and strictly detailed analysis on the in-camera nature of the shoot. Like Tobey’s story, the filmmakers were on a journey, filming these amazing sequences all on location across the country. It’s a beautiful film to watch, using multiple locations to keep the locations around the cars just as visually interesting. While none of the extras are particularly long, they demonstrate the technical wizardry that went into creating these stunts.
In addition to detailed looks at the making of some of the most memorable stunts, there is a short feature on the family of stuntmen that performed the amazing 4-lane jump, a look at the creation of sound for the film, deleted scenes, an audio commentary, and more. It’s a solid set of features, and I was glad to have the opportunity to learn more about the making of the film. In watching this film, it becomes really obvious how much we are losing by modern filmmaking’s ability to cheat the creation of practical moments in film. I am a huge fan of all special effects artistry, including Computer Generated Imagery, but it is refreshing to see a film shy away from that crutch.
Overall, this isn’t a great movie, but it’s worth seeing on a visceral level. The acting is all adequate at best, and the story is generic and predictable, but the experience of watching is fantastic. This is the movie you are expecting. There are no surprises, but if the above sounds appealing, then strap in for a cinematic rush the likes of which we seldom see anymore.