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November 27, 2010


(2010, Dir. by George Tillman Jr.)

Faster really seems like it wants to be a gritty 1970s action film.  The Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vehicle borrows from car flicks like Vanishing Point and The Driver, and certainly has ties to the revenge films of that era.  Also reminiscent of drive-in features are the soundtrack (full of soulful music, though it's docked points for using "Just Dropped In" which is clearly The Big Lebowski's song) and the dialogue (which is offered only when absolutely necessary).  I'm not sure Johnson ever strings together multiple sentences during his time on-screen, he definitely jumps into "silent but deadly" territory here.

The story is as simple as can be.  Johnson plays a driver who is released from prison after a bank robbery gone wrong, and immediately goes on a hunt to dispose of those who killed his brother.  The opening scenes set a brisk pace - which you should expect from a film named Faster - and his first dose of revenge is earned within an hour of his release from prison.

On his trail are a pair of detectives played by Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino.  Thornton's cop is a divorced junkie who is just days from retirement, but he's devoted to seeing this last case through.  In the meantime, a thrill-seeking professional killer played by British youngster Oliver Jackson-Cohen is hired to track down the driver, despite his young lover (Lost's Maggie Grace) insisting he leave the business.  Each of the three men are addicted to their own vice, and the film goes out of its way to hammer home their dedication in every scene.  Also heard throughout the film is an evangelist who seems to be preaching the film's plot via radio (reminding me of Cleavon Little's turn in Vanishing Point), who might have the most dialogue of anyone in the script.

Faster also meshes with a lot of B-Action films of the '70s by taking its story very seriously.  There's little intentional humor in the script, which mostly asks Johnson to keep his shoulders wide and his gaze piercing.  The idea that the filmmakers had was probably to make the unnamed characters seem tough to the audience, and it succeeds most of the time because the action is well-handled and unforgiving throughout the first two acts.  The action scenes aren't full of flashy cuts or modern camera tricks (most of the time, a hospital shootout gets a little spastic), and the film simply offers some quick gunplay and the after effects.  Despite the title, there are also only a couple of car chases, and these too are handled pretty simply by the director.

Johnson eases back into being an action star after forays into children's cinema, and he seems well-suited to the bloody, R-rated film.  Though his mouth is what got him over with fans in his previous career, he fits comfortably into the role of silent anti-hero and still is an imposing physical presence.  Thornton (like his character) seems to be going through the motions in his role, and most of the supporting cast (which includes Gugino, Xander Berkeley, and Tom Berenger in a brief role as the prison's Warden) also don't seem to be stretching themselves in their roles.  Newcomer Jackson, who has Hollywood looks without the price tag of a Jake Gyllenhaal (or even a Matthew Goode), gets a lot of screen-time as the killer, but fails to make too much of an impact on the viewer.  This can partially be chalked up to the fact that the role is so oddly written, especially when his final scene comes around and his intentions are made clear.

The story seems to lose focus in the final scenes, and as a result the film loses a bit of its edge.  The films of past generations that it seems to emulate didn't need plot twists and didn't show restraint when the chips were on the table, and it feels like Faster takes its foot off the gas at the wrong moment.  The final result is still a fun piece of escapism that's got a harder edge than most modern action films, but it leaves a little to be desired.  I can see myself picking Faster up again for mindless entertainment, so I'll give this one a mild recommendation for the modern crowd who doesn't have access to copies of Vanishing Point or Death Wish.

1 comment:

: said...

Not sure why this one worked for me so well, but I just dig the hell out of FASTER. I love a good revenge flick, and I've always admired the Rock's charisma. Love the soundtrack, too. I watch this one at least once every six months or so.