November 23, 2010

Faster

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Faster

THRILLER/DRAMA:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-11-24

Running Length:

1:40

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace, Moon Bloodgood

Director:

George Tillman Jr.

Screenplay:

Tony Gayton & Joe Gayton

Cinematography:

Michael Grady

Music:

Clint Mansell

U.S. Distributor:

CBS Films

Subtitles:

none


With a title like Faster, it has to be a balls-to-the-walls action flick, right? Although that's how George Tillman Jr.'s feature is being marketed, that's not what it is. Faster is a revenge thriller that's more interested in delving into the dark parts of the human soul than it is in delivering carefully modulated doses of adrenaline and testosterone. It's a moody, melancholy affair about one man's determination to avenge the murder of his brother - at all costs. The movie is not entirely devoid of action, but the perfunctory scenes of that nature, which include a couple of car chases, a knife fight, and a few shoot-outs, aren't likely to significantly elevate the pulse rate. As films of this genre go, Faster is a middle-of-the-road offering, but those expecting something fast-paced and frenetic are likely to be disappointed.

Faster focuses on three characters whose lives converge. None of them have names - they are identified only by their occupations. "Driver" (Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. The Rock) has just been released from prison after serving ten years for a bank robbery. Over that time, he has nursed a desire for revenge until it has become his sole reason for living. He is intent upon killing everyone responsible for his brother's death, and he has amassed the resources to achieve that aim. "Cop" (Billy Bob Thornton) is the heroin addicted police officer who has been partnered with the no-nonsense Detective Cicero (Carla Gugino) to track down Driver after the body count begins to multiply. And "Killer" (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is the hit man hired by an unknown client to take out Driver before he completes his task. Killer is good at what he does, but he's beginning to have second thoughts about his line of work, and he has promised his new wife, Lily (Maggie Grace), that this will be his last job. Surviving an encounter with Driver, however, might be the greatest challenge Killer has faced.

The screenplay, by Tony and Joe Gayton, takes great pains to develop the three main characters into more than traditional action film types. In that aim, it is moderately, but not entirely, successful. We are provided with insight into Driver's childhood and motivations. Cop is shown to have a compromised marriage but he obviously loves his son. A childhood infirmity is a driving force in Killer's overachieving personality. Although I appreciate Faster's attempts to build its central figures into somewhat three-dimensional individuals, a lot of what we're presented with seems like window dressing and, rather than fleshing out the protagonists, it slows down the pace. The irony is obvious: because of its commitment to lukewarm drama and lengthy exposition, there are times when Faster drags.

Once, not that many years ago, The Rock was being touted as Arnold Schwarzenegger's action hero successor - a mantle that was jokingly conferred in The Rundown. However, while The Rock has never achieved the level of stardom attained by Schwarzenegger, he has become a bankable commodity for both action films and fish-out-of-water comedies. In Faster, he appears to have modeled Driver after Schwarzenegger's most famous role, The Terminator. For much of the film, Driver is a cold, emotionless killer, taking out his targets without compunction or consideration of the consequences. His backstory, told mainly through flashbacks, humanizes the man he was, not the man he has become. He has little dialogue. It's an effective performance because it demands intensity but not range - something at which The Rock excels. His co-stars perform in his shadow but are capable. Billy Bob Thornton adds a dash of humanity to the sleaze enveloping Cop and Oliver Jackson-Cohen shows aspects of fear and uncertainty beneath a mask of handsome bravado.

Faster's ending is problematic and provokes a hollow feeling, although perhaps that's the intention. One of the movie's themes, hammered home by the sermons of a radio evangelist heard on the soundtrack as Driver speeds along lonely roads, is that redemption comes through forgiveness, and that only through redemption can a man's soul emerge from darkness. Still, the final confrontation is anticlimactic and there's a sense that things have ended on a wrong note, with too much unresolved. The movie as a whole is downbeat, so there's no reason for the ending to have adopted a different posture. This is an atypical revenge thriller, steeped as it is in darkness and misery. With the protagonist being so mechanical in his attitude, it's easier but less rewarding to sympathize with the other characters, and that results in a seeming imbalance in Faster's structure. The lack of an unambiguous catharsis, so ingrained in the fabric of the genre, gives a dour cast to the ending. Faster is grim but holds the attention; it does not, however, offer the kind of mindless action excursion that many will be anticipating.

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