Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
I may be in the minority on this, but the Fast & Furious franchise reached its peak with Fast Five and has been on a slow downhill slide ever since. Happily there’s still fun to be had with the latest installment, and at least part of the entertainment value comes courtesy of director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, The Italian Job).
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for The Fate of the Furious.
The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Commentator: F. Gary Gray (director)
1. He was excited for the challenge of shooting an American film, especially one of this size, in Cuba. “You can throw the camera in any direction and not shoot a bad shot.”
2. The Chevy Impala is one of his favorite cars as evident from his last film, Straight Outta Compton, but people were concerned when he put Dom (Vin Diesel) in one. So they spruced it up into a muscle car.
3. He had read up on fan desires for the franchise including the many voices of people wanting a return “to the basics” of earlier films and car racing. He obliged by delivering “a balls out street race” with this Cuba-set opening.
4. They had to build multiple cars for each of the two racing in Cuba as they couldn’t rely on finding ones stable enough for the action in the country. “If you were take [the regular] cars up to ninety miles an hour they would fall apart.”
5. The script originally had Dom giving Raldo’s (Celestino Cornielle) keys to his cousin as the race dictated, but Gray suggested otherwise on the day of filming. “That’s what the old Dom would have done,” he says, “but I wanted to give the audience a more evolved Dom.”
6. It was Charlize Theron‘s idea for her character to have dreadlocks.
7. He imagines Dwayne Johnson spends every day of his real life being smiled at by soccer moms.
8. He’s not here to advertise the 2017 Dodge Demon Challenger, “but I will say they did give us a lot of them, and they’re pretty damn cool cars.”
9. Gray predicts Scott Eastwood will be “a massive, massive star.” This will not happen, but he’s worth seeking out in the upcoming Overdrive.
10. He can’t think of “a more manly-man guy moment” than the sequence between Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) trading barbs and blows in prison. Their brawl is one of his “favorite fight sequences” in film history… if he does say so himself.
11. He has tons of footage that didn’t make the film simply of Johnson and Statham trying to one-up each other with insults. “I think something’s gonna come out of it,” he says, “we’ll see, but I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing a two-hander between Shaw and Hobbs.” A Fast & Furious spin-off focused strictly on this pair? Okay.
12. It was important to keep the comedy coming to counter this film’s heavy “drama” that franchise fans might not be expecting.
13. He believes the onscreen chemistry between Theron and Diesel is “massive.” I laughed out loud.
14. Cast and crew jumped when Diesel guttural yelled his “I’m alone!” line.
15. One of Helen Mirren‘s career goals was to star in a Fast & Furious film. Apparently.
16. “I’m not gonna tell all of our secrets,” he says at the 1:07:00 mark… having so far revealed zero secrets regarding the film-making. He admits they “had to cheat here and there” as far as using CG to enhance scenes, and it’s pretty obvious in the car-hacking sequence.
17. The hacked car sequence took a lot of resources and money to destroy hundreds of new cars. “We did it all for you, so when I see you next give me a thumbs up.”
18. Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) fight scene at the Russian shipyard reminds Gray of the Patricia Arquette / James Gandolfini brawl in True Romance.
19. “If you knew what it took to get Tyrese on a plane and to go to Iceland…” Apparently Tyrese is auditioning for a new A-Team reboot, but Gary had to almost beg to get him into the scene. “This guy hates the cold.” Tyrese ended up rushing his two days worth of filming into one day so he could get out of there.
20. He doesn’t like to cameo in his films as he’s a terrible actor, but he instead has Tej (Ludacris) say “Hey Miss Parker” as an homage to Gray’s first film, Friday.
21. He played on the “family” theme visually instead of mentioning it repeatedly and ad nauseum [cough] like the last four films have done. [cough].
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“He’s got a hundred million dollars from the last movie. He doesn’t need the Impala.”
“Now this is where we blow up parts of Germany. That was fun.”
“Scott Eastwood, for anyone who’s been under a rock for the last couple years, is Clint Eastwood’s son.”
“The only person who could face two of the toughest guys in the world… Kurt Russell. Nobody cooler.”
“I might have to retire after this one. I’ll let you know.”
“How does Tej know about nuclear submarines when he had an afro in 2 Fast 2 Furious?”
“How do you justify all these cars out here? I can’t tell you. I just think it’s damn cool.”
“I’m not too good to throw a little toilet humor in there.”
But The Fate of the Furious on Blu-ray from Amazon
Gray’s commentary is heavy on the accolades and plot exposition as he praises his cast and crew and explains what’s happening onscreen. He shortchanges fans of “how-to” commentary tracks that explore how shots were achieved, but you can’t fault his enthusiasm. His joy at making a big film filled with cars, action, and fantastic talents is catching.