Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriquez, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: James Wan
It’s impossible to watch Furious 7 and not think about Paul Walker, the veritable face of the series who tragically died in a car crash in November 2013 before the shooting for the current installment was over. Even though Furious 7 delivers the franchise’s requisite thrills, Walker’s real-life fate is never too far from the surface. It’s on the audience’s mind when his character, Brian O’Conner, dangles off the edge of a cliff from a mangled bus, or when the camera begins to cut carefully around the actor’s face in scenes that were clearly completed after his death.
Since 2009, the series has been creating one of the most convoluted and interesting story arcs in all of modern Hollywood, a trend that continues here as the characters deal with the fallout of their actions in Fast & Furious 6 (which was, in turn, a response to the aftermath of Fast Five, which dealt with the blowback from Fast & Furious). In the last film, street racer and master thief Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team defeated a British criminal named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans); in Furious 7, Shaw’s older brother Deckard (Jason Statham) vows revenge. Newcomers won’t notice, but hardcore Fast vets will be delighted, particularly when this Fast & Furious concludes a scene that originally began way back in The Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift almost ten years ago.
Deckard murders one of Dom’s buddies, blows up Dom’s house, and nearly kills his amnesiac lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Brian’s wife (and Dom’s sister) Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Brian and Mia’s young son. He also attacks Dom’s secret agent pal Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who’s no pushover. So Dom vows revenge on Deckard for vowing revenge on him. This is a lot of revenge for one movie to contain, and that’s before Dom and the rest of his crew (which also includes computer expert Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and comic relief Tyrese Gibson) hook up with a shadowy government operative named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and then start skydiving out of planes behind the wheel of their custom cars, a sport I guess we have to call “skydriving.”
Director James Wan, a man previously known for horror movies like The Conjuring and Insidious, replaced longtime franchise steward Justin Lin on Furious 7, but the visuals don’t miss a beat. By the big finale, Wan’s juggling three or four interconnected lines of parallel action, and doing so with a deftness and precision that a lot of veteran genre filmmakers still lack. Even with the tough choices he made out of necessity in order to keep Paul Walker in the film, this might be the best-looking and best-edited Fast & Furious so far.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Swastika Mukherjee
Languid, dark and broody, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is one of those rare films that entertain despite the lack of Bollywood masala in their content.
Set in 1943 Calcutta, the film is based on the works of Bengali crime fiction writer Saradindu Bandopadhyay and tells the origin story of the fictional sleuth.
Banerjee’s Calcutta is a city of secrets and shadows lurking at every corner. A terrific opening scene sets the mood for the film’s noir-ish leanings. With World War II currently at its peak, the threat of oncoming Japanese bomber-jets looms large. It is against this landscape that Byomkesh (Sushant Singh Rajput), a recent graduate on the verge of taking up a teaching job, lands his first investigating assignment.
A young writer named Ajit (Anand Tiwari) is concerned about the whereabouts of his father, a reputed chemist, who has been missing for two months. The police think he’s run away, but Byomkesh is convinced that the old man has been killed. As he sets about prying into the mysterious disappearance of Ajit’s father from a local lodge, our private eye protagonist stumbles into a much bigger conspiracy involving Chinese drug dealers, a Japanese dentist, a femme fatale from Rangoon, and a slew of assorted characters who may or may not hold clues to the case.
It’s the snail-paced plotting, and the surprising lack of urgency that lets the film down. Story strands and characters are abandoned arbitrarily, only to be revisited later. The big reveal isn’t too hard to guess – stick with your gut, don’t let the red herrings distract you, and lo, you’ve figured it out. The climax too is a mess of hammy acting.
But despite these problems, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is a far more accomplished film than your average Bollywood offering. Every frame is crafted lovingly; the cinematography is stylish and evocative, Sneha Khanwalkar’s mostly heavy-metal soundtrack terrific, and the film’s production design simply first-rate. Aside from the odd clunky performance, by Swastika Mukherjee as the unintentionally hilarious seductress, the acting too is solid, particularly by Anand Tiwari, the Dr. Watson to Byomkesh’s Holmes, who brings stray moments of much needed lightness to a largely humorless film.