All we do is Vin, Vin, Vin, no matter what. Got Diesel on our minds, we can never get enough. And every time he shows up in the cineplex, everybody’s wallets open up! … AND THEY STAY THERE.
It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Vin Diesel in the flesh onscreen, but he’s back in this month’s Bloodshot. It’s also been a full quarter-century since Diesel’s short-film debut caught Hollywood’s eye and eventually launched an improbably enduring career that spans several franchises.
As famous for his multi-ethnic makeup as his (sometimes literal) monosyllabic musings, here’s our monthlong ode to a guy whose career gets great mileage. This is All We Do is Vin.
Without meaning to offend fans of Vin Diesel, it is safe to say that he is more of a movie star than an actor.
That is not meant to denigrate Diesel’s talents.
Throughout the history of the movie industry, there have been personalities whose popularity elevated them to the ranks of stardom, while others — although also popular — were considered actors. Clark Gable and Errol Flynn were stars. Spencer Tracy and James Cagney were actors.
For most of his career, Diesel (born Mark Sinclair on July 18, 1967) has played the same type of character — an individual with his own code of honor and sense of morality. He places family and loyalty above everything. And he doesn’t speak unless he has something to say.
His breakthrough came in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, in which Steven Spielberg cast him as Private Caparzo. Diesel was hired after Spielberg saw him in Multi-Facial, a 1995 short film Diesel starred in, wrote and directed.
Diesel followed that up with Strays, a little-seen 1997 movie that he also starred in, wrote and directed.
This brings us to Saving Private Ryan, in which Diesel’s role is small yet meaningful — a gruff grunt whose display of compassion and humanity ultimately proves fatal.
You don’t really get to focus on Diesel during the first 30 minutes of the movie, which is Spielberg’s celebrated recreation of the D-Day invasion. On Omaha Beach, confusion reigns as men drown, are machine-gunned or blown to pieces by Nazi forces protecting the beach.
The first dialogue you clearly hear from Caparzo comes after Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men clear the beach and neutralize a Nazi bunker, killing several German soldiers. He jumps into a trench and takes a souvenir from a dead German. “Hey, Fish, look! A Hitler Youth knife,” he says to his pal, Fish (Adam Goldberg), casually tossing him the weapon.
Later, Caparzo is one of the seven soldiers Miller chooses for his squad when he is assigned the mission to find and, if possible, bring home Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three older brothers already have been killed in action.
Diesel’s next moment comes when squad newcomer Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies), taken along as a translator because he speaks French and German, tries to engage Caparzo in small talk. The grunt rebuffs him, lecturing Upham that saluting the captain puts a target on Miller’s back and that he should refrain from doing so — especially when standing near Caparzo.
Upham tries to make conversation with other squad members, asking about Miller — where he came from, what he did in civilian life and the like. They all tell him they know nothing of the captain’s past. The response from Caparzo, is an “I love him,” uttered with a combination of admiration and dogface cynicism.
Diesel’s big moment comes when the squad reaches the French town of Neuville, where they believe they will find Ryan. On the outskirts of town, and while under fire from German troops, Caparzo reaches for some apples lying on the ground and takes bites from a few to test if any are good. Ultimately, he spits them all out.
As they move into a town, a French family, in a mostly shattered apartment, tries to hand over their daughter to the soldiers for safekeeping. Even as Miller orders Caparzo, who has climbed the rubble to take the girl, to leave her with her family, he disobeys. Here, Diesel shows the big heart and humanity that has become his trademark, especially in the Fast and Furious franchise.
His compassion overrules his common sense; he tells Miller it would be inhumane to leave the girl where she is. It is here that, not even a third of the way into the film, a German sniper shoots Caparzo. He is lying on the ground in the open, bleeding out. Caparzo’s companions are shouting instructions — telling him to lie still, not to offer the sniper another shot. Caparzo, though, reaches into his pocket and takes out a blood-soaked letter that he asks his companions to deliver to his father.
It is a touching moment. You realize Caparzo knows he is dying. His last thoughts are about his family — apropos for the role that family, blood or otherwise, plays in the Fast and Furious movies.
The squad’s own sniper, Private Jackson (Barry Pepper), then gets a bead and kills his German counterpart. But it is too late; as the various low-angle shots of Caparzo on the ground indicate, he has basically bled out and is dead. The coda to Diesel’s participation in Saving Private Ryan is a terse eulogy by Miller as Caparzo’s body is covered with a blanket: “That’s why we can’t take children,” he says.
Caparzo may be dead, but Diesel’s participation in Saving Private Ryan helped give birth to a promising and successful career as an action star and savvy producer.