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.
My father … He used to, ah, used to have a barbecue every Sunday after church for anyone in the neighborhood. If you didn’t go to church, you didn’t get any barbecue. Every single day, he was in the shop and every single night, he was at the kitchen table with Mia helping with her homework. Even after she went to sleep, he’d stay up a few more hours so he could learn the next chapter and help her the next day. I remember everything about my father. Everything.— Dominic Toretto, Fast Five (2011, d. Lin)
In my review of last year’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I explained how Marielle Heller’s Fred Rogers biopic doubled as an exceptional story about fathers, sons and masculinity. In that story, a journalist has to come to grips with the conflict he feels about his dying deadbeat dad and how that conflict might permeate into his relationship with his newborn son. Mr. Rogers is something of a flawed guardian angel to this character — a father who failed as much as he succeeded but owned up to it and carried on in the healthiest way he could. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling about men and fatherhood.
So is Justin Lin’s Fast Five, the fifth tale in the ongoing saga of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his found family of car thieves turned super-spies. The series has a reputation for being about family. If one were to break down each film into its familial focus, it’s indisputable that Fast Five is the Fast about fathers, using its high-octane telenovela theatrics to express something genuine about men on the cusp of the most important responsibility they’ll ever have.
Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is Dom’s lawman pursuer turned best friend for life. Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) is Dom’s sister and (since the first film) Brian’s girlfriend. Immediately following the events of the fourth film, Fast & Furious, Brian and Mia break Dom out of a high-security prison bus in the opening of Fast Five. It is pretty fucking awesome. Now fugitives on the lam themselves, these two lovebirds separate from Dom and escape to Brazil. It’s there — after a train heist, reunion with Dom and foot-chase through the favelas with Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) on their tail — that Mia tells Brain she’s pregnant with their first child.
Brian hugs her. Dom hugs her. Then the three of them embrace, with Dom’s face between them — a man who is not (yet) a father but who knows all too well what it means for his best friend and sister.
Later, while in hiding, Dom and Brian sit on a porch and talk about what the future will be like. The sequence is dynamic, containing multitudes. Let’s review Dom’s famous speech— both the actual text, and Diesel’s line delivery, which renders it such a vulnerable piece of acting.
Watch along if you’d like!
My father (pause) He used to, ah (held beat), used to have a barbecue every Sunday after church for anyone in the neighborhood. If you didn’t go to church, you didn’t get any barbecue.
In the first line, Dom delivers the word “father” quietly. If you’ve ever heard Diesel speak outside of a movie, you know that his performance as Dom often involves dropping his voice down to a gruffer, pursed-lip monotone. Really, it’s pretty common in most of Diesel’s big roles. But it’s leavened here, closer to his usual speaking voice. Everyone knows Diesel is secretly a softie, playing heroic characters he’d have loved as a fairly nerdy kid. Dominic Toretto is the most successful of those characters, and he lives and breathes the values by which Diesel feels his youngest audiences should abide. Dom is, basically, a superhero. As he begins to deliver this monologue, you can tell Diesel feels it has weight.
Dom invoking his father’s food preparation for the whole neighborhood speaks to those values he wants to share. It’s a vision of masculinity as providing for a wide, and oftentimes found, family of people who can trust and count on you. The use of church is interchangeable with community, an insistence on participation and contribution from everyone in the entire group.
It’s worth noting that Dom’s father is as-yet unnamed in the franchise. We know from the first film, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, that he was killed in a stock car race by another driver in a tragic accident. Back then, it was just backstory. Now that it’s the Fast Saga, in which no one ever really dies, it’s almost certain that someday (perhaps even with May’s forthcoming F9) we’ll learn that Papa Toretto is alive and well on a secret mission somewhere, etc., etc. (And don’t forget about Kenny Linder, the as-yet-unseen driver who did Papa Toretto in.) Have fun fan-casting that!
Anyway, Dom’s held beat containing the “ah” as he chokes back emotion is powerful, dredging memories Dom rarely raises to the surface of his being. To Diesel, this character embodies the virtues of the male role model. He’s a man who remembers the face of his father, if you will. Paternal relationships between men are deeply important, sacred even.
Every single day, he was in the shop and every single night, he was at the kitchen table with Mia helping with her homework. Even after she went to sleep, he’d stay up a few more hours so he could learn the next chapter and help her the next day.
This anecdote elaborates on the point of the church story but brings it back home. Despite being a genuine badass, Mia has always had to prove her worth within the Fast Family. Dom is protective of her, overly so, and her love affair with Brian is initially met with real disapproval in The Fast and the Furious. Dom expressing his father’s overwhelming devotion to Mia is a way of really emphasizing that in the Fast universe, fatherhood is the fullest devotion a man can make.
It also inadvertently underscores the gender dynamics that frustrate many viewers who wish this series achieved greater parity between its male and female lead characters, as well as their utility to the story. Although later entries have improved — and Michelle Rodriguez reportedly required compelling reasons for her to return to F9 as Letty. Fast Five is very much the troubled start of that transition. Letty Ortiz, Dom’s long-time lady love, is presumed dead at this point after the events of Fast & Furious, but she returns in the next film. Mia has some good action beats but mostly stays on the sidelines. Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) returns from Fast & Furious as a weapons expert. But Fast Five is fundamentally about relationships between men.
To its credit, these relationships are emotional and rich. The subtext of most action films is that men can fall as deeply in love with other men as they do with women, whether that love is sexual in nature or not. In this case, it isn’t in the text itself — the subtext is debatable — but that right there is what sets Fast Five apart and gives it the tools to say something genuine about fatherhood. The movie is proudly about love relationships between men and doesn’t pretend otherwise.
Despite the inadequacies of the material Fast Five has for its women, it also doesn’t enhance its lead male romance at the expense of degrading the women in their lives. (That’s not the case for Tej and Roman, supporting characters respectively played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson, but that’s a different thing.) Mia may not have a lot of action beats, but she’s equally important in Dom and Brian’s lives, and they do not reduce her or degrade her for the sake of their bond.
I remember everything about my father. Everything.
When we first watched Fast Five together, Aly did a double take at this line delivery. Diesel basically slurs the word “father,” pronouncing it “faddah.”
“I remember everything about my faddah.”
The mask has come completely off. Dom the character has ripped apart the gruff exterior he often wears even in front of Brian, his best friend and soulmate, and Diesel the actor removes his own standard persona to do so. It’s an incredible marriage of an actor understanding his oneness with a character.
So, too, does this final line drive home indelible truths about fatherhood found in Fast Five — that the lessons our fathers leave us are forever part of who we are and who we will be as parents, and that our impact on people can stretch beyond our own children through the values we bestow upon them. Men can, and should, share the experience of fatherhood. Fatherhood is not a curse, as so many films about men on adventures treat it. It’s a gift.
The ending of this scene establishes that Brian doesn’t remember his father, a man who disappeared when he was young (Reportedly the Mr. Nobody character introduced in Furious 7 was supposed to be Brian’s father before Walker’s untimely death in 2013.) Brian worries he’ll end up being the same type of father. Dom assures him he never will. Dom remembers everything about his faddah, and will pass on everything he remembers to help Brian and Mia raise their child.
Of course Dom eventually learns he has a secret love child with ex-girlfriend Elena Neves (a woman introduced in Fast Five) after both are kidnapped by a supervillain who uses them as leverage to make Dom briefly betray his family. The Fast Saga!
Dom and Brian’s deep love is one shared, by all accounts, between Diesel and Walker, and it’s clear that the two of them felt that this scene, and this film, represented their chance to express their mutual parenting experiences on their largest cinematic platform.
Fast Five doesn’t spurn traditional masculine archetypes. It certainly embraces them amid its really cool cars and badass bank heists. But it does its best to squeeze the toxicity out of them and see what is left — telling a story about fatherhood that celebrates what a man can be when he embraces that role.