Christian Movie Review
When author C.S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he wrote this about the looming sense of separation that came over him: “We were setting out on different roads…this terrible traffic-regulation (‘You, Madam, to the right—you, Sir, to the left’) is just the beginning of the separation…”*
Although a Lewis quote might be a very odd thing to mention in a review about a street racing action film, this Lewis quote fits very well actually. (And you’ll see why when you see the film.) “Furious 7” is a surprising film that — beneath all the action hero one-liners, wild action scenes, and popcorn-deep pop culture — observes some very powerful things about death, grief, and saying goodbye. (And, surprisingly, its view about death and separation is less grim and more hopeful than the state of mind that troubled Lewis in the early chapters of his book.)
“Want to see the future? Just look behind you,” says Jason Stratham’s villain in the opening scene. And though his violent, wicked character meant the phrase for evil, the film turns that idea into something beautiful by the end of the story as it looks backward in time and pays tribute to Paul Walker in a surprisingly profound way.
“Furious 7” was Walker’s last film. He died in a car crash on Nov. 30, 2013 in Santa Clarita, CA, after he and a friend had left a charity event (a toy drive for kids). Walker’s friend was driving a Porsche Carrera GT at excessive speeds when he lost control of the car and hit a pole and a tree. Both passengers died instantly.
I met Paul Walker in a bowling alley while we both stood in line waiting to get our bowling shoes. He waited patiently in line behind me, never insisting on star treatment. He was there with his young teenage daughter (whom he clearly doted over) and a bunch of her friends to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. He was easy-going, friendly, and didn’t turn away fans who interrupted his bowling game for an autograph. (And, yes, he was an awesome bowler, too.)
My brother Ian was Paul Walker’s assistant at an awards show in Los Angeles.
Although I never knew Walker as a friend, I had been around him and had heard enough eye-witness stories about him to get a sense for who he was off-screen.
Besides being a devoted father, Walker was a born again Christian. Walker had also planned to stop acting when he turned 40 so he could spend more time with his family. He turned 40 in September 2013, two months before his death.
So, as odd as it sounds, “Furious 7” felt personal. It hit closer to home than most movies. Besides being an epic action film that wholly embraces its over-the-top genre, “Furious 7” is a heart-wrenching tribute to Walker. The film’s ending still gives me goosebumps when I remember it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.
I’ll share more about this in a moment — including an open letter of prayer/encouragement that I wrote for Walker’s daughter the day after he died — but first…
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality/Romance: The races and party scenes feature many close-up shots of scantily dressed, bikini-clad women, with numerous close-up shots of the derriere and what appeared to be extremely uncomfortable wedgies. At one party in the United Arab Emirates, dancing women covered in gold paint and wearing underwear appear to be naked (but they’re not). No sex scenes.
Violence/Gore: This is a high-octane action film, and there is plenty of PG-13 gun and hand-t0-hand violence. Plenty of people get killed from gun wounds, fighting, and explosions, but there is no gore or detailed close-ups of wounds and carnage.
Language: No f-words. Other swear words (s, d, b, a-words) are sprinkled consistently throughout the script.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Characters drink beer in several scenes. (And, wow, Corona got some serious product placement.)
Frightening/Intense Content: In one scene, a huge explosion endangers a toddler seated in his car seat. The suspense builds up to it, where you sort of sense there is danger coming, so this scene is especially intense because it involves a young child in danger. The entire film revolves around near-death battles, car chases, and explosions. So, yes, “intense” is sort of the whole point.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
“Furious 7” is street racing culture modified and turbo-charged with all-or-nothing “Mission Impossible” international spy team intrigue. Besides Walker, it stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Stratham, Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, and Lucas Black — quite the ensemble cast. It’s sort of an all-star team from all the previous “Furious” movies.
The film is unashamed about its action film over-the-top gusto. Some of the lines, delivered in utter seriousness, are so ambitiously campy — in the sense that the writers were clearly trying to come up with hilarious, endearing but awesome one-liners for their action stars — that it almost, almost, borders on action film parody in a few scenes.
But what makes this film work is its endearing self-awareness and its big heart. It knows it is over-the-top. It knows it’s dishing out hilarious one-liners. And it loves every minute of it. It’s just there to have fun, and, frankly, that spirit of let’s-just-go-for-it-and-make-this-thing-as-big-and-crazy-as-possible is irresistible.
And it has a big heart because the characters, even if we don’t believe that anyone in real life would utter such well-timed one-liners right before they blow up a helicopter by winking at it, genuinely love each other. That’s not surprising, considering that these actors have made so many of these films together. The one-liners and totally implausible action sequences might not be believable, but the bond and affection between the actors is entirely convincing.
You can’t help but get emotionally invested. The actors really do care about each other, and it shows: and as they go from one crazy situation to another — whether it’s driving their cars out of airplanes or jumping/crashing a “super” car between three different skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi — you worry about each character’s well-being as much as the characters themselves do.
And they work a tribute to Paul Walker into the story itself. It’s not something attached to the end credits after the story ends. I won’t give any spoilers away. It’s unpredictable, and it’s not exactly what you’d expect in a situation like this, but it is beautiful and absolutely heart-wrenching. I was in tears by the end. Many others in the theater were too. I still tear up just replaying the final scene in my mind.
Worldview/Themes of Redemption
If I were to re-write Lewis’s quote and use it to summarize “Furious 7,” using the main characters Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel), it would say this: We were setting out on different roads…a terrible traffic-regulation (‘You, Brian, to the left—you, Dom, to the right’)…but such separation between friends and family is temporary. It is never goodbye. It is never final.
Somehow the film makes these themes of separation easier to bear — even beautiful. The story, especially the ending, sees the wonder and priceless value in life, and it’s filled with gratitude. It’s a movie about the past and present, about the roads that separate us, and — most of all — about family. It’s about people who are loyal to each other, who would die for each other, but who also know when to set their priorities straight and take care of their loved ones.
Paul Walker was preparing to lay aside his Hollywood career just before he died so that he could spend more time with his family. In a very beautiful way, the film pays tribute to that fact.
And it does not end grimly. It is hopeful. “It’s never goodbye,” Dom says in one scene. It’s just a temporary separation.
And, because of the victory that Christ won for us on the cross and in the tomb, I believe that with all of my heart. I know I will see my family again — the ones that I’ve lost in recent years. This physical world is not all there is. There is more — much more. And I also expect to meet Paul again in Heaven, and I will make sure to compliment him on his excellent bowling.
Seeing “Furious 7” and writing this review was emotionally draining, to be honest. It’s forced fresh grief from the past to the surface. But seeing the film — going through that emotional arc and dealing with it — was worth it and somehow therapeutic.
My Open Letter of Prayer and Encouragement to Paul Walker’s Family
Here is the open letter I wrote for Paul’s daughter, the one who was at the bowling alley for her birthday when I bumped into Paul:
If she happens to read this, I can only offer a few quiet words of encouragement — the same words that encouraged me when my mom died: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17, NKJV).
In other words, Meadow, your dad Paul is safe with the Lord now, drinking deep from God’s living water in Heaven, and this terrible tragedy is only a temporary separation. This world will someday roll up like a scroll, and true reality — Heaven — will be our home. God has every hair on your head numbered, and He keeps every tear you cry in a bottle: “You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8, NASB) Someday He will wipe every tear you’ve cried over this.
Jesus Himself is now with your dad, and as you keep Christ close to your heart, it means that your dad is close too.
(You can read more details here about when I met Paul Walker and about my brother’s time spent with him as an assistant at an awards show.)
*A Grief Observed (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 9). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
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