Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has successfully transitioned from a pro wrestler to an actor with some decent films to his credit, including The Rundown, a remake of Walking Tall and Get Smart, along with, inevitably, some real clunkers, including the oddly off-the-mark remake of Race to Witch Mountain and the ghastly Tooth Fairy. Johnson is solid in Faster, and it's a pleasure to see him back in top form.
Faster is a throwback to the action films of the 1970's, from the production color schemes to the film stock and camera angles utilized by cinematographer Michael Grady. If you're not familiar with classics like Shaft, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Enter the Dragon and the original Walking Tall, however, you might find yourself a bit confused by the unrelentingly serious and aggressive feel of the film. There are no humorous interludes, not much of a love interest, just a story of revenge.
Johnson plays "Driver", a tough-as-nails hoodlum who we first meet on the day he's being released from a maximum security prison after ten years of incarceration. During his exit interview with the warden (Tom Berenger), he only wants one question answered: which door leads to the exit? Upon release he runs a few miles into town because there's no-one at the prison gates to meet him. From his first minutes of freedom, he's focused on tracking down the crooks who double-crossed his gang, killing his much-loved kid brother and leaving him bleeding to death.
The genre formula has a policeman as the antagonist, trying to track down and capture the criminal, and Billy Bob Thornton plays this role, one he's played in countless films. He's a highly imperfect slob of a cop, though his relationship with Driver proves surprisingly complex as their cat-and-mouse game defines the tension of the film.
I really enjoyed Faster and found it a throwback to the classic action films of my childhood, tough and exciting. If you've been weaned on the modern crop of cop dramas, you might find it rather dark, but if films like Bullit, The French Connection or Dirty Harry are your idea of a satisfying action adventure, then you'll find Faster a solid, enjoyable movie.
Story line isn't the strong point of Faster, with some gaping issues like the puzzle of how the two-bit hood we meet briefly assembled his neatly typed list of the group that killed everyone in Driver's gang and stole the money from their bank heist. The list does however offer a way to track time in the movie along with a chance for director George Tillman Jr. to include nods to both The Dead Pool and The Terminator.
Adding confusion to the story, movie-star handsome hitman Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has been hired to track down and kill Driver. Killer is a perfectionist hitman who does the work for the excitement of the chase and he's shocked when Driver proves hard to kill, whining to his gorgeous girlfriend Lily (Maggie Grace) when his attempts fail.
Lily (Miaggie Grace) and Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) from Faster
The film is ultimately a three-way chase between Thornton as Cop, Jackson-Cohen as Killer and Johnson as Driver, and it's satisfying in that light. There's no deep meaning, no romantic interest, and barely any time for character development, but as in the 70s action films, Faster is about the chase, about the protagonist unravelling the conspiracy and avenging the murder of his beloved brother.
Driving a 70's era Chevelle, Johnson blazes through a number of small Central Californian towns, racking up the body count. By this point he's known by the police and his face is being featured on TV news programs, yet he never bothers with even the most minimal of disguises. Somehow he still proceeds with little interference from the law, though Killer keeps showing up, trying to attain the perfect kill.
Thornton is days away from his retirement (another genre trope) and its his younger partner, Cicero (Carla Gugino) who is the most straightforward, unambiguous character in the film. She's tough, persistent, and furious that she's been saddled with lazy slacker Cop on her case due to department politics.
This is not a complicated film and there's little profound, though the introduction of reformed gang member Preacher (Buzz Belmondo) offers a chance for some commentary on forgiveness and redemption in one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.
I'm an unabashed action film fan. I like the genre and the simple storyline, revenge and redemption, earnest criminals caught up in difficult situations and forced to find their own solutions. If there's some collateral damage along the way, all will be forgiven as the ultimate denouement is unveiled. If that sounds appealing, you'll definitely want to catch Faster on a big screen.