Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Need For Speed’ Review: Starring Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots & Dominic Cooper

Need For Speed transcends everything I thought a video game adaptation film could be. Yes, there are a lot of car chases, car crashes, a few explosions and even a scene right out of the actual video game where a helicopter picks up a sports car. But underlying all of those stereotypical scenes that we crave in an action-adventure picture like this one, is an interesting story that unfolds quite nicely as we follow our lead character (played impressively by Aaron Paul) and understand his drive (pun intended) in seeking revenge.

After being released from a two-year stint in prison, streetcar racer and blue-collar mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), was framed for manslaughter by wealthy business associate and ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Dedicated to seeking revenge, Tobey embarks on a cross-country race against time in a supped-up Shelby Mustang supplied by car broker Julia (Imogen Poots).

Director Scott Waugh (2012’s Act of Valor) and first-time screenwriter George Gatins pay homage to the cult-racing films of the 1960s and 70s, like 1968’s Bullitt starring Steve McQueen and 1971’s Vanishing Point starring Barry Newman. We especially see a nod to Vanishing Point in the character of the radio DJ played by Michael Keaton, but Waugh also delivers his own modern take of racing films to the picture and the result is a delicious blend of retro-inspired storytelling and crisp intense action.

The estimated budget for this film for $66 million and it was well spent in the gorgeous and vibrant cars used throughout. In reality, some of these cars cost over a million dollars, and not wanting to wreck the actual car during production, $300,000 imitation shells were created to look like the real thing. What’s spectacular about Need For Speed compared to other car racing films is that every car crash and destruction sequence is real and there is very little use of special effects. Muscle car enthusiasts will adore this film, because we see everything from a Mercedes Benz McLaren, a Koenigsegg One and all the way to a 2015 Mustang GT.

Aaron Paul is absolutely fantastic as our lead action hero. He gives Tobey a range of emotions throughout the movie, everything from an internal performance while he is casually driving the car to hysterically crying during one particular scene. And that goes with saying that alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul is one of the best criers in the business. Really, he’s so incredible and his emotional depth really comes through the screen wonderfully in this film.

Dominic Cooper is not to go unnoticed in this movie either. I’ll always think of him as swooning Keira Knightley in 2008’s The Duchess, but Cooper transitions nicely into the slimy ex-NASCAR driver and sports an American accent in the film. Cooper and Paul have a heated rivalry throughout the film and it’s their drive to win that moves the story forward.

The movie is shot in a fun, stylized way by cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, who also worked with Waugh on Act of Valor. We get to see point-of-view shots from the driver’s perspective in several of the cars and vertigo or dolly-zoom shots as the car speeds away from us. I saw the film one in regular 2D and once in 3D and it would definitely be wise to save yourself the few bucks and stick to the 2D, as the 3D conversion does nothing extra for the movie.

Need For Speed will more than satisfy muscle car enthusiasts and Aaron Paul fans. Fortunately I fit into both categories and after seeing the film twice, the thrills and car chases remained extravagant.

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