AARON PAUL LEADING his group of supporting actors, from left to right, Ramón Rodríguez, Kid Cudi, Harrison Gilbertson, and Rami Malek.
Today’s films are dramatically different than the ones of the past. The days of practical effects seemed to have been foregone for those created through computers (CGI) and films attempt to appeal to the largest possible audience. While this style of filmmaking has led to a completely new era of films along with bringing the industry to new heights, financially, I found that revisiting the film style of old was a welcome change. Need for Speed brings this change in a dramatic way, leading it to be one of the most entertaining action films I have seen recently.
Going into this film, you should be aware of a few things, it is not trying to win an Oscar for Best Picture or be this year’s compelling drama, it is also not trying to pander to every single person in the country; it’s just not that kind of film. The film has one goal, and that is to provide an enjoyable experience for those who already love films of the past like Bullit, American Graffiti, The Cannonball Run, Commando, and even The Terminator. Need For Speed references many of these films, which was very cool to see. However, if you have no idea what those films are or think they’re just old and stupid … well you probably won’t enjoy Need for Speed either.
When I first heard that a Need for Speed film was in the works, I had very low hopes for the end result, it was another adaptation of a work that doesn’t have much substance from a storytelling perspective. Even when I saw the trailer, I was decently sure the film would be poor and unenjoyable. While the story is far from its strongest feature, it actually succeeds in creating interesting characters and telling an interesting tale.
The film was made without any CGI, and does an incredible job with its various practical effects. I especially enjoyed the unique cinematography used to live up to the title by imparting an incredible sense of speed throughout the large portion of the film that is spent within a vehicle. Some stunts definitely required intense planning and work, similar on-screen events have been portrayed solely through CGI in other recent works. However, at no time does the film look dated and holds its own in terms of aesthetics with recent successful films. I find this the most impressive, as CGI is often hailed as able to achieve a better looking film. While some things are humanly impossible to achieve without them, Need for Speed is able to fully refute this claim with its strong production value. A final production note, if you see this film in a setting with a good sound system, prepare yourself, because it is LOUD, to the point where some viewers were complaining about it when exiting the theater. I, on the other hand, found it to be an extremely positive feature to the film, that only added to the realism of the action sequences.
Touching on realism, while the race and action sequences take few liberties, this is not necessarily the case with the plot. The likelihood of the overall concept is fairly low. I mean, let’s be serious, would a rich, mysterious guy hold an illegal street racing competition which not only publicly streams the event online, but also displays the real names of its participants? The film also presents the classic concept of our hero prevailing over “evil” in every situation that is thrown at him no matter how implausible success is.
This obvious concept, leads to a bit of predictability throughout the plot.
I found that these issues did not bring down the film in any major way, and only furthered my feelings of how it is homage to films of days gone by. These films often heavily relied on these ideas to further their often equally predictable and implausible plots. Need for Speed is about the journey, not the ultimate conclusion. And a journey it definitely is, involving a race against time across the United States. The classic road film has been resurrected as this sequence makes up nearly three quarters of the film, and was very well done with incredible filming locations ranging from the tough streets of Detroit, to the Bonneville Salt Flats, to a Grand Canyon scene which is awe-inspiring on the big-screen. The final sequence is equally enthralling, perfectly capturing a race between super cars through quintessential California landscapes, including massive redwoods and the picturesque Highway 1 along the cliff-laden coast. As a natural feature and US scenery buff, I might be slightly partial towards the experience, however either way the cinematography is done spectacularly and it is hard not to appreciate out country’s natural beauty.
Need for Speed holds a wonderful sense of adventure throughout, with interesting, varied events that its characters must go through. As a viewer, I felt like I was on the journey with the characters experiencing the plot’s hardships and successes. Once again, the viewing experience of the film looks back to films of the past, and this sense of adventure is often missing in modern films where I often feel like I am just an audience member. To get the full experience, definitely see the film in theaters, preferably in IMAX, or at least a theater with an extra large screen and a better than decent sound system.
Another strength of the film is its cast, Aaron Paul submits a great performance as protagonist Tobey Marshall. If you found his character of Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad enjoyable, you will feel right at home here. The supporting cast is great too. From the comic relief of Tobey’s buddies Benny (Kid Cudi), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), and Finn (Rami Malek) who all add their unique nuances to the film. An especially funny sequence comes from Finn’s character, when he quits his day job. Michael Keaton’s performance as the previously mentioned old reclusive rich guy is also quite well done. Dominic Cooper’s portrayal of villain Dino Brewster results in a character you will definitely want to see defeated by the time everything is said and done. Finally, Imogen Poots plays Julia Maddon, the British car dealer who, in a crazy turn of events, ends up along for the ride cross country, eventually turning into Tobey’s love interest. Poots is hilarious in her role, sarcastic and witty throughout, while also proving to be a much deeper character than Tobey ever expects.
A final slight side-note, when growing up, my favorite video-game series was Need for Speed, and as the games series has basically no plot or the parts some games had was nearly laughable, I went into the film unsure how it was going to work. Instead of trying to be an adaptation of the games, it becomes its own separate derivative work. With that said, it includes a few references which prove to be great fan-service to those who may have grown-up loving the games like me.
As I’ve previously stated, Need for Speed is a special kind of film and probably isn’t for everyone. In fact it definitely isn’t, but that’s okay because I know there are still plenty of people who enjoy films like this, and may even think they are just an object of the past on the big-budget scale as I previously did. While it is not a perfect film in any way, it more than succeeds at it what it set out to do. I was surprised with how good it was, especially as an adaptation of a video game, and its ability to succeed as a standalone work may surprise you too.
Need for Speed? More like “Need to Shut my Eyes to Keep from Throwing up Due to Bad Acting and Over-intensified Action Sequences” or, if that’s too long, maybe “Need a New Director.”
Though the movie contained many high-energy action sequences, it can by no means be classified as a “thriller,” since the story was canned and completely predictable in every way. Within five minutes of the movie starting, my friend and I were able to forecast every element to come, including how many deaths would occur and the veracity with which the character (or characters? No spoilers here!) would die.
Perhaps the thing that killed this film the most was the acting, which was elementary at best. Every scene contained melodramatic overacting, which negated any sense of actual drama and increased the hilarity factor of car crashes and first kisses by a multiple of three.
Adding to the overacted mess was the lead character, Tobey, played by Aaron Paul. If you liked Paul’s character Jesse in Breaking Bad, he basically played the exact same character in Need for Speed, minus the meth. He employed his old tricks of glaring dramatically out from under his eyebrows, speaking to his nemeses in a grizzly voice, and walking the line between man-who-cannot-be-tamed and man-with-a-heart. Seeing as he was mentored on the set of Breaking Bad by Bryan Cranston, he should have performed far better and found a deeper, more dynamic character rather than simply reviving the one he played for five years on AMC, but I guess old habits die hard. In this instance, I blame the director for favoring big car stunts instead of challenging actors in the film to dig deeper and find some authentic emotion.
Beyond the poor acting, the styling of the movie was also completely off. At first, it seemed like the movie was taking place in the 60s … yet they all had iPads and high-tech car equipment. In one of the first scenes, Tobey runs into his ex-girlfriend, who has been living in NYC. Instead of looking New York chic, she looked like she just rolled off of a tractor with an ill-fitting dress and cowboy boots. I’ve seen a few movies in my day and none of them portray stylish New Yorkers like this.
Finally, the plot made no sense. It featured a strange god-like car enthusiast internet behemoth who orchestrates highly illegal street racing with top-of-the-line muscle cars and drivers, embodied by Michael Keaton. He would blab on and on about cars and people, some of which were in small towns in the middle of nowhere, and somehow everyone everywhere was listening—except for the authorities. I mean … come on! The script needed some serious work.
The bright spots were a couple of Tobey’s friends, Benny (Kid Cudi) and Finn (Rami Malek). These characters added an element of unexpected fun and light heartedness to a movie filled with revving engines and predictable story lines.
I later found out it is a movie inspired by a video game, which makes me want to judge it slightly less harshly. On the Holly scale, I’ve decided to give it an unenthusiastic shrug and a grimace. Ladies and gentlemen, unless you are in love with cars and loud car engines, I’d stay away from this flick.