A film review by Craig J. Koban December 3, 2010
2010, R, 95 mins.
2010, R, 95 mins.
Driver: Dwayne Johnson / Cop: Billy Bob Thornton / Killer: Oliver
Jackson-Cohen / Cicero: Carla Gugino / Warden: Tom Berenger / Lily:
Maggie Grace / Roy: Mike Epps
Some critics have labeled the new action-revenge-thriller FASTER as a waste of time. I would more aptly describe it as a surprisingly not-half-bad time waster. The film is unapologetically rooted in the spiritedly gratuitous underpinnings of 1970’s B-grade exploitation fare, the kind of no-holds-barred, no nonsense, and red-blooded tales of blood-soaked, gun totting retribution that occupied bargain bin priced midnight showings.
even better is that we get to see Dwayne Johnson make a welcome return to
the action genre, one that initially served as his meal ticket into the
film world, but got sidetracked in a slew of inconsistent family fare that
nearly neutered his bad ass and tough guy street cred.
Forget about wimpy, limp dick career detours like THE TOOTH FAIRY
and THE GAME PLAN, because “The Rock” (Dwayne, ya need to drop your
birth name and stick with your wrestling moniker) is back as a furiously
unhinged killing machine in FASTER. Amen, brother.
film does not have much in the way of a discernable plot.
It’s essentially more about testosterone-induced tone and mood:
muscle cars, massive biceps flexing, stone cold stares, and a fearless and
ruthless anti-hero packing heat and methodically exterminating people one
by one. What’s perhaps even
more intriguing about the film is that Johnson plays a main character
that, throughout most of the story, has very few redeeming qualities:
he’s a single mindedly hostile, cold, and robotically emotionless
murderer that eradicates his prey often without so much as flinching or
breaking a sweat. For that,
it’s such a satisfying relief to see Johnson completely shed his
nice-guy façade that he has donned is so many recent films (which, by the
way, he can do well) and morph into an itchy trigger fingered,
balls-to-the-wall executioner that’s not above, for example, walking
into a crowded office building and shooting a defenseless telemarketer in
the head, as shown in an early scene in the film.
wait a tick, why did he shoot a defenseless telemarketer?
Well, Johnson plays a man identified only as “Driver”, a man
that has served ten years in prison for being the driver during a bank
robbery. While incarcerated
he had a lot of time to develop an intense level of hatred towards a group
of men that not only led to his imprisonment, but also led to the gruesome
murder of his brother. On his
last day behind bars he impatiently paces back and forth in his cell like
a ravenous lion that has not been fed in weeks, and when he has a last
meeting with the prison warden (played nicely in a small cameo by Tom Berenger),
he offers Driver some life advice and a card with an intervention hot line
number. Driver, in response,
dryly and stoically responds, “Where’s the exit?”
he finally is freed from prison, he runs (literally) for miles to a
junkyard where he finds a mint-condition 1970 Chevelle that he takes so he
can begin his arduous task of seeking bloody revenge.
After a meeting with a contact on the outside, Driver has amassed a
list of people that have directly been involved with his sibling’s
murder (one of which, yes, is the telemarketer) and he now takes it upon
himself to find each and everyone on it so he can put a bullet in their skulls. It’s one thing to seek revenge on the single man that
pulled the trigger that ended your brother’s life, but Driver takes it
to a whole other maniacally and obsessive level.
He’s gonna kill…everyone associated with it.
manages to have couple of interestingly developed supporting characters
that occupy subplots that run concurrently with Driver’s mass murder
spree. Firstly, there is a man
addressed as “Cop” (Billy Bob Thornton, who can play withered and
beaten down with the best of them) that is a walking police officer movie
cliché, but when played by the wily Thornton he kind of rises above them.
He’s a week from retirement, estranged from his wife and son,
and, even worse, he’s addicted to heroin and does it on the side.
He’s been partnered up with a tough and ambitious police
detective named Cicero (Carla Gugino, an actress that can crossbreed sex
appeal and street wise toughness with ease) and they take it upon themselves
to hunt down Driver before his exploits turn deadlier.
second character driven subplot is perhaps the most compelling: We meet
“Killer” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) that is a contract hitman that can be
hired for a ridiculously low sum of money (I mean really low) to complete any job, mostly
because he is filthy rich already, and possibly because killing people is
an addictive hobby for him (his current hobby, yoga, has just been
“beaten” by him when he mastered three positions that only a scarce
number of people on earth are capable of doing).
Like most obligatory hitmen, Killer is starting to rethink his line
of work, mostly because he wishes to marry the love of his life (Maggie
Grace), who refreshingly is in on his secret vocation and supports him.
Yet, Killer is starting to emotionally unravel – even discussions
with his therapist over the phone while he's on missions gives him no solace
– so he takes it upon himself to take one last job – eliminating
Driver – so that he can retiring with his wife and to a new life.
seems a bit more literate in terms of its willingness to focus on developing the
aforesaid side characters than the average low rent, revenge pot
boiler, which I think is what makes up for its overall narrative
shortcomings. The hitman thread follows some preordained paths that we’ve
seen in countless hitmen films before, but I liked how Jackson-Cohen plays
the role with more dimension than it would first appear: he’s a
narcissistic yuppie with GQ cover looks that is addicted to his
extracurricular extreme activities and has more lethality than his pretty
would let on. Thornton’s cop is a bit more of a mixed bag of routine cop
conventions, but he lends a sort of soft spoken sincerity to the role that
makes him feel more well rounded than the script gives on.
The actor’s casting is a savvy and deceptive curve ball of sorts:
lesser actor, I think, would have pandered down to the routine formulas of
this role, but Thornton sort of subverts and rises above them here.
He’s thanklessly decent here.
let’s face it, FASTER is not about existentialist pontificating about
the fractured emotional natures of the main anti-hero and the two men after
him; it's concerned with delivering a sumptuously dark, gruesome and
adrenaline-fused auctioneer, and director George Tillman Jr. displays a
good eye for cleanly delineated action set pieces (a welcome relief for
the eyes and head in a sea of queasy-cam, staccato visual diarrhea that
typifies many modern action films) as well as a strong sense of style.
Tillman experiments with intriguing camera set ups and angles, a
lean and mean editorial style that rarely feels exhausting, a nifty retro
soundtrack that evokes the type of drive-in movie subgenre that FASTER
wishes to be associated with, and it builds and sustains tension with
all of the various standoffs that Driver has throughout the story.
FASTER may be a fairly trivial revenge thriller, but it looks resoundingly
there are some groan inducing elements here, like a would-be shocking
payoff and plot twist involving one key character that is so laboriously
telegraphed so early in the film that it all but makes the final act feel
that much more anti-climatic. The
ending itself cheats audiences a bit when it comes to the Driver character
himself and his destiny, where we are kind of force fed some needless
themes of how spiritual redemption is good to cure any alienated and cruel
soul (riiiiiigggght). Yet, I
moderately enjoyed the sum of most of FASTER’s parts and I especially
applaud “The Rock” decisively returning to old form where he allows his hyper-proportioned, granite-like physique, piercing magnetism, and a
steely eyed intensity rule the day, all traits that once had him pegged as
the heir apparent to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The job is still open, Mr. Johnson, if you still want it, and FASTER proves that you’re willing.
CTV Segment - Underrated Dwayne Johnson Films: