Faster – Review


The Good, The Bad, and The Rock

Charisma is the quality that separates actor from movie star. It’s a trait that is inherent and one that can be outwardly conveyed over time. Will Smith may have gone from Philadelphia to Bel-Air, and in the process conquered the music and TV world, but it was his trifecta of hits (Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black) where he made his mark on Hollywood. Is he in the same acting class of a Sean Penn? Absolutely not. But he’s the consummate showman, of being able to command the attention of viewers.

Dwayne Johnson is also Mr. Charisma. Gravitating to the world of movies from the world of sports entertainment, where he developed the nickname “The Rock” while with World Wrestling Entertainment, Johnson has shown that he has the ability to elevate films – like The Tooth Fairy – on his natural charm alone. The wrestler-cum-actor has been on the cusp of movie stardom for years, and he’s been doing just what Arnold Schwarzenegger told him to do at the start of The Rundown back in 2003: to “have fun.”

But with Faster, Johnson drops the natural charm and inhabits a role of an emotionless killer who is fueled by revenge. And here I bet you were thinking that this was going to be like The Fast and the Furious but with brutal action and adult situations. This George Tillman feature may have been heavily marketed as a Furious clone, but Faster is anything but. It’s a revenge thriller that treats its subject as if it were produced in the 1970s instead of 2010.

Three characters converge in Faster. None go by a first or last name – they are identified by their occupations. “Driver” (Johnson), released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence for a bank robbery, has only one goal: to kill those who had a role in his brother’s death. He has no other thoughts or concerns. Bullheaded with black in his heart and revenge in his soul, Driver takes to the road in his ’71 Chevelle and a .44 by his side. “Cop” (Billy Bob Thornton) is the heroin-addicted officer of the law with less than a month to retirement that gets assigned the case after Driver takes out his first victim. Partnered with a female detective (Carla Gugino) the two work to track him down before the body count rises. And the last character is “Killer” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a hit man hired by an unknown client to take out Driver before he can cross out all the names on his list. Killer is an expert at his craft and matches Driver’s brutishness with calculation. Though good at what he does, even he has doubts about his recent line of work and promises his new wife (Maggie Grace) that this will be his last job.

Instead of venturing down the traditional action movie route with their characters, screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton seem more concerned with their individual arcs. Driver’s is the most pronounced, as we see through flashbacks and learn of his motivations. Cop is on the wrong side of a relationship with his wife but is trying to make it work for the expense of their son, who he adores but has a hard time showing affection. And Killer may have the most-interesting but least explored arc of the three characters. A multimillionaire who kills for thrills, his quest for personal fulfillment is built on a physical impairment he had as a child. The Gaytons, obviously inspired by Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Ennio Morricone’s famous score is Killer’s cell phone ringtone – attempt to give their characters purpose by exploring the motivations for their actions, but at the same time it bogs down the film’s pacing. Which is funny considering the title.

But Faster is lean, mean and raw. What it lacks in the area of dialogue – Driver has at most probably five to ten minutes of speaking time in the flick – it makes up for it in overall tone. Knowing that he can’t rely just on Johnson’s charisma, George Tillman, Jr. shoots him many times from a low-angle to make him more looming in the eyes of viewers.

Dwayne Johnson is compelling as Driver, because of the intensity he gives the character. Johnson, having shown he has range to do action and comedy, is essentially paying homage to Schwarzenegger’s early career in cinema, but without the witty one-liners. Even though he doesn’t talk much and is about as smooth as a blunt instrument, Johnson still manages to cast a shadow on his co-stars.

Now there is a problem with how Faster ends. The final confrontation is too anticlimactic to gain any true sense of fulfillment. Maybe that was the intent, or it could be because test audiences didn’t like the original ending. Looking at the trailer again, we lose a chicken car sequence involving Driver and Killer that would have appeared after the remaining instigator in his brother’s death gets his comeuppance. It would have looked impressive, and will most likely appear on the home video release, but the action-heavy sequence doesn’t work, especially since Killer’s unknown client is now dead. With Driver’s revenge quest over, the story would have shifted to Killer’s sense of pride and needing to finish the job regardless. It would have lessened the chasm of the film’s already ambiguous ending, but would have satisfied those looking for one last mindless action sequence when revenge was the main course and the dish was already served.

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Notable Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Jennifer Carpenter
Carla Gugino, Tom Berenger, Moon Bloodgood, Mike Epps
Writer(s): Tony and Joe Gayton

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