Faster is the kind of brutal, stripped-down action film that we don’t see a lot of these days, when CGI extravaganzas tend to crowd the marketplace. It’s uneven and imperfect, but the movie delivers the kind of no-frills thrills that action fans will enjoy.
The film begins already in motion, with a character known only as Driver (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) in his jail cell, pacing, ready to go. When he is let out of prison, he can’t wait to get started, so he starts running. When he gets to the nearest town, he finds a scrap yard, where there is hidden his car, a beautiful black Chevelle, along with a gun and a list of names of people who need to die.
Before going to jail, Johnson’s character was a getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers that included his brother. After a heist, a rival gang took the money and killed Driver’s brother, as well. Now, all that Driver wants from life is to get revenge on the rotten bastards one by one.
After Driver becomes wanted for an increasingly large number of murders, a cop (called Cop), played by Billy Bob Thornton, is put on the case. He shoots up heroin, looks unwashed and wears unfortunate shirts. And if that isn’t bad enough, he’s only days away from retirement. He’s paired with Det. Cicero (Carla Gugino), whose honest-to-god competence makes a nice pairing with Thornton’s rumpled street smarts, and the two chase Johnson all over the southwest.
For the last few years, I’ve been disappointed every time one of Johnson’s kiddie films has come out, with him playing a tooth fairy or second banana to cute children. He was very charismatic in movies such as The Rundown, or even in the monumental misfire Southland Tales, and it seemed like he could have a good career making action films, if only he would try.
Faster is exactly the type of movie I thought Johnson should have been doing, and he does a good job, delivering a sad, haunted performance. Johnson had a nice, sarcastic charm in The Rundown, but here he is a blunt instrument, rampaging through anything in his path. There is nothing in his eyes but revenge. He never stops moving, but has no wasted motion.
Thornton’s weather-beaten charm makes an interesting contrast to Johnson’s single-minded fury. This sort of beat-down cop could have been a cliché, but Thornton brings out the humanity in the part, along with the help of screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton. He doesn’t overplay his character’s problems, instead portraying him as a guy who just wants to put things right with his estranged wife (Moon Bloodgood) and son (Aedin Micks) and make it to retirement so he can get his pension.
The film is filled out with a nice supporting cast, including actors such as Tom Berenger, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley and Mike Epps, who turn up for a scene or two and lend some nice color to the film. A particular standout is Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who is excellent as the most penitent person on Driver’s list, a man who has spent his last few years becoming an evangelist who often preaches, surprisingly enough, about forgiveness.
Despite all the film’s forward motion, it isn’t immune to wasting time. There is an entire subplot about a mysterious assassin, called Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who made millions running a computer company but has cashed out, and dedicated his life to some sort of ridiculous campaign of self-improvement through extreme hobbies—mountain climbing, car racing, murder for hire. He tells his girlfriend (Lost’s Maggie Grace) that he has “beaten” yoga, and is ready to move on to some other hobby, but first he has been hired by some mysterious client to kill Johnson before he can complete his list.
Jackson-Cohen’s character is somewhat interesting, mainly in how absurd he is, and his presence facilitates Grace in a variety of smallish outfits, but he doesn’t make sense here. He either needs some more scenes to flesh out his character, or to be excised completely, but in either case he doesn’t really belong in this movie, and his presence is barely noticed by Thornton and Johnson.
The movie has plenty of influences, with the most obvious being Walter Hill’s 1975 film The Driver, featuring Ryan O’Neal as a driver known as Driver, and Bruce Dern as the Cop trying to catch him. There’s also John Boorman’s Point Blank, with a supercool Lee Marvin taking out an entire mob looking for the $93,000 he’s owed when he’s left for dead after a robbery. And of course, there are Sergio Leone’s trilogy of “Man with No Name” films, which are referenced specifically in Faster.
The movie can occasionally feel like it’s trying too hard to be cool, or to be what a film like this “should” be, but most of the time director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Notorious) stages the action sequences cleanly and impressively, lending them real excitement.
Aided immensely by the charismatic performances from its two lead actors, this film delivers relentlessly propulsive action, and is a nice take on the classic revenge film while occasionally giving us something deeper. It has its problems, but at its best, Faster feels like what one of the characters says about Driver in the film: “artless, but pure.”
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.