Marilynne Robinson’s Furious

It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern.

 He studied her face. “You’re furious.”
“That’s right.”

 The life she’d decided she would never have was there the whole time, trapped and furious, and in that minute she knew that if a man she ought to hate said one kind word to her, there was no telling what she might do.

The latest cinematic installment of this blockbuster series will not disappoint fans of the earlier two, and as usual, the team behind the previous adaptations of Marilynne Robinson’s prize-winning novels have hewn closely to the book and also made the film their own, with thrilling results.

Set again in the small farming town of Gilead, Iowa, among the clerical Boughton and Ames families, Lila: Trés Furious, finds the title character (Michelle Rodriguez) wed to the much older widower Rev. John Ames (Duane “The Rock” Johnson). Lila’s past is something of a mystery, and I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, given the previous films, to say that as the truth of her history unfolds, the characters hop into various modified stock vehicles and undertake numerous cross-county chases through corn fields, wheat fields and cow pastures. Viewers who know the franchise will expect the resulting carnage, high-speed crashes (with stunning CGI affects), and meditations on the nature of grace, shame and predestination.

The series has moved beyond the single-note script of the original, Gilead: Really Quite Furious, in which the Revs. Ames and Boughton (Vin Diesel) compete on Saturday night racing through Gilead’s street, then battle for souls on Sunday morning. Robinson adapted her own novel for the original film, and the theological sparring between the clergy—shouting excerpts from Calvin as they redlined through the Iowa night—seemed somewhat implausible. After all, with only a hair’s-breadth difference between them, would Rev. Ames, as a Congregationalist, really allow a synod of elders to dictate that he should install the Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold over the Mopar M1 on his 383 Road Runner when he’s already expressed a desire to stay as stock as possible? “Manifold sins” indeed!

Despite the climax of the second film, Home: Furiouser, fans need not have worried that they’d seen the last of Jack Boughton (Channing Tatum), the troubled, thieving, alcoholic mechanic and prodigal son who roared through the town in his father’s restored and souped-up DeSoto. There, after surviving an apparent suicide attempt that devastated his fragile, loving sister Glory (Jessica Chastain), he left the family house, presumably never to be seen again. Of course, as viewers well know, once out the door, he finds the Rev. Ames, his mortal enemy, bearing down on him in his monster John Deere combine, an S680 tricked out with the 8-wing feed accelerator. The slow-motion, real-time chase through a wheat field (Jack Boughton was drunk and stumbled a lot) famously ended showing Jack’s bloody remains in the shredded scraps of his familiar suit. The suit then exploded because Jack had cleaned it with gasoline.

In the first few minutes of Lila, we learn that Jack survived that peril by cleverly throwing his coat over a deer carcass in the field, and that’s what the evil Rev. Ames mistook for Jack’s body. Talk about a surprising resurrection!

The filmmakers, in particular director Justin Lin, have taken a risky step by deepening the characters in Lila. The dialogue of Home was spare and beautiful: “You’re furious.” “That’s right.” Some nitpicking critics complained that those two lines became an ubiquitous catchphrase because they were the only words spoken in the film, but I see that as an example of Lin’s admirable restraint. And that left lots of screen time for racing!

In Lila we get more expansive narration and plot. Instead of depicting straight-up street competition, the film posits that terrorists are planning an attack on Gilead. Jack, who is working undercover for the CIA—his alcoholism was a ruse—rallies the warring Ames and Boughton families together against the threat with a rousing organ version of “There Is a Bomb in Gilead.” Streetwise Lila moves to the forefront of the story, displaying surprising black-belt martial arts skills even in the seventh month of her pregnancy. I only wish the marketers had not ruined the shock of that development by making the phrase “there’s no telling what she might do” the tag line for the film. The only spoilers here should be on the backs of the cars.

Until Robinson writes another Gilead book—pray that she will!—aficionados of the franchise will have to be content with the same filmmakers’ next project: an international thriller and Tom Cruise action vehicle that boils down the entire six-book series of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle into M-S:1-6.