The marriage of video games and cinema has traditionally been a rocky one, which is why the words “based on a video game” strike fear into the hearts of many a moviegoer. With titles like Super Mario Bros., Doom and Max Payne the result of this union, you can’t really blame cautious viewers. But in the end what it boils down to is this: is what you are watching a solid film or not, despite its roots? In the case of Need For Speed this question can be answered with a resounding yes.
The film, based on Electronic Arts’ Need For Speed game franchise, stars Aaron Paul, in his first big movie role after his portrayal of Breaking Bad‘s troubled drug dealer Jesse Pinkman. Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a gearhead and gifted street racer who starts out racing for money, but ends up doing it for justice and revenge. He is undeniably the film’s biggest strength, imbuing Marshall with steely confidence, a large heart, humor and a healthy dose of (road) rage. Paul is always mesmerizing to watch and his on-screen pairing with Imogen Poots is a fortunate one: they have great chemistry, which makes one of the movie’s core relationships work better than the functional but trite writing leads you to believe. It’s no wonder the two will star opposite each other again in Nick Hornby adaptation A Long Way Down. Meanwhile Dominic Cooper serves as great foil for Paul’s Tobey Marshall, as the spoiled and detached rich kid Dino Brewster. These three leads give a depth to their cooky-cutter characters that gives Need For Speed a much needed boost, adds a gravitas to its run-of-the-mill pulp story.
But let’s be honest here: Need For Speed‘s story is just a means to link car chases, stunts and race scenes together, and for that purpose it’s perfectly serviceable. It adds a sense of urgency to the practical stunts, which are breath-taking to watch. During Need For Speed‘s filming director Scott Waugh was very passionate about making a movie that embraced the mentality of his beloved Hollywood films of old: doing real stunts whenever possible. As a result each race, collision or U-turn feels raw and leaves an impact which, combined with the many takes from the cars’ cockpits and the emphasis on the vehicles’ roaring engines, creates an incredibly sense of speed, danger, adrenaline and realism.
Need For Speed succeeds where it counts: it brings the thrills and offers a pulse-pounding popcorn experience. 7/10