– Summary –
Director : George Tillman Jr.
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Moon Bloodgood, Maggie Grace, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Berenger, Mike Epps, Xander Berkeley, Matt Gerald.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: After being released from a 10 year stint in prison, a man seeks revenge on the group of people who double-crossed he and his brother and put him inside. With a gun, a car and a no-fail attitude, the Driver will let nothing stop in the way of his vengeance.
What we think : Muscular, fancy-free action thriller sees Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson return to the genre he should never have left – this one. This is a lean, mean film, free of story fat or frivolity – it’s the kind of film that means business, takes no prisoners, and ask no questions of its audience. You either like it, or you don’t. Faster is ballsy, violent and kinetic, and utterly enjoyable.
The BluRay cover blurb quote states, quite simply, that Faster is “… the straight-up best action film of the year”, and it’s hard to disagree with. Faster is, for want of a better description, exactly the kind of action film Hollywood audiences needed to see – especially in light of overblown blockbusters (Michael Bay, I love you – but man, you need to make another Rock movie) and the turgid Oscar bait released every other week. The Rock… ahem, sorry, Dwayne Johnson makes his welcome return to the hard-ass action films we deserved, instead of yet another fluffy Disney-esque “comedy” that takes his natural screen charisma and turn it into cinematic vomit. Here, with Faster, Johnson sacks up and gets all angry and stuff, as a vengeful ex-con seeking retribution against those who killed his brother and set him up to go to prison. He’s silent, brooding, tortured and angry – exactly the kind of character Clint Eastwood might have played in his younger days, and free from the kiddie-lite catastrophes of Tooth Fairy and that stupid one about being the babysitter for that inane family, Johnson makes the most of this decidedly adult actioner. Faster came on the back of his career resurgence in Fast Five, the fifth film in the Fast & The Furious franchise), raising his stock as one of the modern screens preeminent action stars.
Johnson plays Driver, a recently released 10-year con who’s out to get revenge on the people who sent him to prison. After a daring heist, Driver and his brother (as well as their gang) are double-crossed by a group of unknown assailants, who end up killing the brother and almost killing Driver as well – he ends up with a large metal plate in the back of his skull, and plenty of time in prison to plan his revenge. Upon his release, Driver starts his cross-country trek to hunt down those who killed his brother and double-crossed him – and meting out some good old fashioned revenge. The cops, of course, are hot on his heels, with Detective Cicero (Carla Gugino) and her new partner, the drug-addled and “I’m five weeks from retirement” Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) pursuing him as he finds his victims. Also on Driver’s heels is an assassin, known as Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), whose relationship with Lilly (Taken’s Maggie Grace) is leading him to question his work and his life motivation. As Killer and Driver cross paths, and the cops try to get ahead of the game, the final confrontation looms as one almighty, epic showdown.
Sometimes, a palette cleanser is what any good film critic needs. Faster is just that kind of film. It’s unpretentious, gritty, ballsy and injected with pure testosterone. It washes away the aftertaste of bloated Hollywood spectacle, dreary dramatic bores and insipid adult “comedy” with the determination of a square-jawed gangster sizing up a G-man. The characters are elemental, the narrative wastes no time with sentimentality or extravagance – Faster delivers a well written, generally well acted and well shot film that’s like a breath mint for the brain. Johnson, who looks like some kind of cross between The Hulk and pre-heart trouble Arnie, scowls his way through this film with the anger and righteousness of a man wronged so deeply he’s almost lost to even the thought of redemption. His character isn’t someone we ought to like – he’s a criminal, and although the film initially portrays him as a genuine hard-ass, his backstory really contradicts the character we journey through this story with. Johnson isn’t an actor who pushes his limitations (in my opinion), rather, he accepts his screen persona and our expectation of it, and in Faster, has distilled it into his quintessential character archetype.
Driver doesn’t chat much; he talks with his fists and his gun, and to those who say a character needs more than a gun to become interesting, I say pish-posh to you. Driver has a backstory – and a good one, at that. The screenplay, by Tony & Joe Gayton, eschews soft-focus history for the pure, raw filth reality often serves up. About as close to “chick friendly” as this film gets is the relationship subplot between Killer and Lilly (a radiant and super sexy Maggie Grace – damn, I bet Liam Neeson wishes he could save her in this!) – and each major character gets a small, but intelligently well rounded, story of their own which is gradually revealed as the film runs. British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen has a terrific career ahead of him if the role of Killer is anything to go by. He’s a no-name actor amongst the star-wattage on display around him, yet he acquits himself superbly in his end-game toe-to-toe with Johnson, and with a script allowing his one-dimensional character actually grow and develop as a person, he’s near-on likeable by the end of the film. Billy Bob plays the sleazy cop with his usual panache, the wry humor and subtle sharp-eyed calculating “go with my gut” twinkle in his eye serving him well. A blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by the resurgent Tom Berenger as the prison warden, a weirdly wooden Moon Bloodgood as Cop’s ex-wife, and an unresolved subplot with Cop’s young son are about as close to disappointing this film ever approaches: and if that’s all Faster has to worry about, then that’s not too bad.
Faster is helmed by George Tillman Jr, a director whose resume wouldn’t exactly elicit screams of delight that he’s bringing a gritty, violent actioner to the screen – his past credits include Notorious, the Barbershop trilogy of films, and the DeNiro flick Men Of Honor. Not exactly an up-and-coming Brett Ratner, right? Regardless of his lack of action-oriented experience, Tillman does a superb job here, bringing a rawness to his film that doesn’t just punch you in the face with cool, it stops to make sure you’re conscious and then punches you again. His framing and editing, as well as his use of hand-held and tracking shots, are wonderful to watch, and there’s enough style going on here to ensure you’re never bored once. It’s not flashy, though, but it is stylish – and there’s the difference. Flashy indicates arrogance, while stylish indicates a respect for audience sensibilities, and I appreciate that in a director. If I was pushed to describe Tillman’s directorial style, as a comparison to other directors, I’d say his work here shows influences of Edgar Wright, Peter Berg, and an early Tony Scott, before Tony Scott lost the ability to hold a camera still. Remember Enemy Of The State? That was a good film. Anyway, Tillman’s style here shows signs of him being a terrific action director, and I look forward to seeing whatever his next project might be.
From a production standpoint, Faster looks and sounds the goods – the cinematography by DOP Michael Grady shifts between warm brown hues and shadowy off-green (I think), with the majority of the film a seemingly monochromatic wash of sepia throughout. I took that as a kind of throwback to the pulp crime films of the 70’s, almost as if the story was borne of that era, and you know what? I loved it. The film is edited exceptionally deftly by Dirk Westervelt, the brutal violence never outstaying its welcome; the violence is portrayed without fanfare at all, actually, as if it’s a part of life and a character all its own in this film. Clint Mansell’s score is driving yet strangely generic, I have to say, although it suits the story and the style of the film. I guess it gets the job done without breaking a sweat. Mansell’s done better, though. Those looking for a cool action film score might find themselves a tad disappointed. On the audio front, the muscle-car Driver uses throughout the film roars into life whenever he’s in it (and he’s in it a fair bit), and the sound design on this film flexes its own muscles whenever it can too. Gunfire, squealing tires, engines throbbing: this is a terrific aural experience regardless of your thoughts on the film itself. Kudos to the sound design team on this one.
Overall, Faster is a macho, machismo-laden action thriller, filled with sweaty, muscular action thrills from Dwayne Johnson and a bunch of cool sequences that make a good cinema trailer. There’s no real intellect here, just good old fashioned gung-ho revenge violence and cool. It’s the perfect edgy actioner to cleanse your viewing palette, to kick-start your adrenaline and reboot your tired old Twilight-hating mindset. It’s a cinematic enema with Johnson as the tube, smothering your eyeballs with gargantuan, wide-smile glee as he pounds his way back into our good graces with a terrific genre flick. If you like your action hard, fast and brutal, then Faster is your choice of movie.
What others are saying about Faster:
My mate Dan over at Dan The Man’s Movie Reviews enjoyed it: “Faster provides enough action and fun to satisfy anyone, but the cheesy script, and other random stories really do take this film down from hitting harder than it could have.”
Scott over at FrontRoomCinema didn’t like it much at all: “Unfortunately, for me, this action film isn’t mindless enough. It seemed to try and be a bit too serious.”