Faster review

Faster has an immediate urgency to it. As soon as Dwayne Johnson’s character is released from prison, he gets straight to business, running to a scrap-yard where a 1970’s Chevelle is waiting for him, along with a powerful handgun and an address. The film doesn’t dwell on any jokes or throwaway one-liners. Faster is completely and utterly serious in its brutality of revenge.

A man known to us simply as Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is released from prison after serving ten years for a bank heist. Although the heist was a success, he was the only survivor, after another group intervened, killing his brother and taking all the money. He now has just one thing on his mind: to kill those responsible for his brother’s death. However two men are out to stop him, a veteran police officer known as Cop (Billy Bob Thornton – with hair), who has an unfortunate drug addiction and is nearing retirement, as well as an enthusiastic hitman known as Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), looking for a worthy opponent.

From director George Tillman Jr., having previously directed the Biggie Smalls. biopic Notorious, Faster is his first foray in the action genre. While similar to the likes of Point Blank, or Kill Bill, the difference here is that our protagonist doesn’t really know the potential victims on his hit list, and neither do we. They’re just a gang of nameless strangers.

The same could be said of the lead trio, since they’re unusually branded by simple single monikers – Driver, Cop and Killer. It’s as if the film doesn’t want to waste time delving into their background, because for the purpose of this story, labelling them with standard cardboard archetypes tells us more about these characters than any names would. We’re told the brief necessities of their history, enough to realise that they’re all bad guys in their own way. Driver’s is told in flashback, Killer’s in pictures, while Cop gets a chance to explain himself.

Having dabbled in family films, it’s great to actually see Johnson playing such a monumental badass. Essentially an unstoppable terminator, it’s his actions that do most of the talking, given that he hardly says anything. His first words are, “Where’s the exit?” It’s another ten minutes till we hear him utter another sentence. Of the people he’s out to kill, he only ever talks to one of them. He doesn’t even smile. Hell-bent on revenge (he walks through oncoming traffic just to get to his target), the film has to get by on Johnson’s rather one-dimensional character, but at least it’s a powerfully put across dimension. Without giving the whole thing away, there’s a point where Driver stumbles with a reckless decision that very nearly costs him his life. From this point on I was firmly hooked in seeing just how far he’d get in fulfilling his one-man-mission.

Thornton does okay in a common role as Cop, a downbeat officer treated like a loser, but suddenly makes headway in a case that could be his last hurrah before retiring. Lumbering him with an ex-wife and child just brings some expected gravitas to a clichéd role.

The film falters with the character Killer, played well by Cohen. In fact, he’s an interesting character that could do with his own film, but feels strangely out of place here, since his inclusion serves hardly any purpose to the overall story. That the film is sorely lacking in action, I imagine he’s only there to provide some of the more intense shoot-outs and car chases. There’s also his girlfriend Lilly (Maggie Grace) who is criminally underused, and the film could have written her out completely. However, we do see that she can also handle herself with a gun, and it would have been more interesting if she joined Killer on his hits, potentially providing the characters and the film with a touch more conflict.

Try not to be misled by the trailer. It’s not a shoot-em-up fest and there is no car flying through the air. It’s the kind of thing that could have ended up going straight to DVD. It is rather formulaic, yet manages to deliver an unexpectedly satisfying conclusion, and for a deep-rooted revenge thriller, is more heavy-handed then it looks. Faster doesn’t serve up your standard meat and two veg action yarn, since the healthy veg is actually missing. But it gets by on just how good the meat is.

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