The open road slips beneath us, asphalt baking and cracking under the hot Dominican 1 sun. Then, moments later, we are overtaken by a tanker truck. It is soon revealed to be no more than prey for none other than Dom, Letty, and a non-dead Han2, plus a few fresh faces. This is a mission statement: the real Fast & Furious is back, and it’s bigger and better than before. But this fourth film is not so much a return to the sun-soaked bromance of the first film – rather it is a broken reflection of it.
If you look at the franchise purely as a vehicle for Dom and Brian’s bromance, the second and third films could be comfortably excised from the series allowing us to jump straight to F&F to find Dom broken & betrayed, full of fear for his family after the death of Jesse in #1, and clinging to the only home he has left – the open road.
It isn’t long before his fear, combined with his patriarchal desire to protect, causes him to leave after word comes that the cops are closing in. If he’s going to go down, he’s going to go down alone. What Dom doesn’t realize is that the lone wolf lifestyle doesn’t suit him, and that running away from those you care about doesn’t protect anyone.
The Brian we meet in downtown LA is neither the sun-soaked, wide-smiling Brian of The Fast and the Furious, nor the Miami “brah” of 2Fast 2Furious. There are glimpses, but this is a man who wears a suit to chase down a suspect and has a respectable haircut and smiles only fleetingly. He is no more happy than the self-exiled Dom 3. For each of them, it is their moral code that has led them to this place. A desire to protect; to do the right thing by family, or by society. But each of them follows that code down the wrong road.
And each of them is pushed toward the other, and toward his true self, when Letty is murdered.
Whereas Brian does old-fashioned regular police work to find his way toward the killers 4, Dom taps into his inner Sherlock Holmes when visiting the site of Letty’s murder. He pieces together what happened by sniffing some residue on the road and staring off into the darkness.5.
Each of them follows his own set of clues to the first stop on the Plot Train where they cross paths for the first time in five years. It’s kind of a tense meeting.
It isn’t long before Brian & Dom meet their target(s) at Plot Stop #2, earning their way into his employ after a street race that is an inversion of their first – instead of happily spouting “I almost had you!” after his loss Brian intones that he could have beaten Dom in a fair race.
This plot is secondary to Brian and Dom’s reconciliation, though. It is pure mechanics. Every challenge is easily beaten, but serves its purpose of pushing them together, forcing them to confront not only their mutual past, but the men it turned them into, the choices they made along the way, and the consequences of those choices.
The reveal that Letty was working for Braga because she was working for Brian is those consequences writ large. Not for Brian, who has already been dealing with this guilt (though unbeknownst to us), but for Dom, who up until this point couldn’t see his own role in her death. They both must shoulder the blame, and they both have to make it right.
And in order to make it right they have to fulfill the roles they committed to at the beginning of the film. That of lawman, and that of vengeful vigilante. And once those debts have been paid, they are free to move forward.
For Dom that means to stop running. Not from The Law, but from himself. From his fear. He faces it by facing prison, and before long, accepting what he could not at the start of the film: his fambly putting themselves on the line for him.
For Brian it is about actively putting his code above his duty. At the end of the film, as they race to free Dom from the prison bus, Brian is no longer passive, but an engaged and committed member of the fambly. And he is smiling.
It is an often dour film, but an essential one. Both for the characters as they must confront and reconcile the events of the past, but also for the audience. We too need to understand the depths of their pain, and how hard they fought through the darkness to come out the other side, into the sun.
- I like to believe it is very intentional that we come back to Dom in a country sharing his name
- in a loose payoff to Dom’s delivered-by-Bow Wow declaration of Han being family at the end of Tokyo Drift
- on the lam, yes, but also self-exiled from his family
- finding Letty’s killers is not really his main mission, but he is after the same people
- This is the only use in the series of this super power, but each subsequent film tends to see him gain a new one to replace the one he lost