Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) has diverted on his career a bit over the last couple of years. Instead of tough, hard-hitting characters, Johnson went down the route of making more family friendly movies, and good for him for being brave enough to do that -- while also making bajillions of dollars. Still, it's always good to see a big star go back to his roots, and he's done that with the recently released Faster. Don't be thrown off by the struggles the movie has had at the box office, this is a bare bones, exciting, fast-paced action movie that won't disappoint.
My first thought when I saw the trailer for this movie a couple months back was that it felt like a throwback to the 1970s when car chases, anti-heroes, and equally bad cops dominated movies. Well, I wasn't too far off. It doesn't feel like a throwback, this movie IS a throwback to the good old days of 1970s cop/anti-hero/road movies like The Vanishing Point, Death Race 2000, Two-Lane Blacktop and many more I'm forgetting. Oh, also add in some pretty strong violence and you've got the 2010 version. Nothing groundbreaking here, and there were some things that threw me off, but never enough to distract from a very enjoyable, highly entertaining action flick.
Released from jail after a 10-year sentence, a prisoner known only as Driver (Johnson) knows exactly where he's going. He walks into an office and promptly shoots a telemarketer in the forehead, only to get back into his classic Chevelle and drive off. Two police officers, Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and Lt. Cicero (Carla Gugino), are called in to investigate and figure out what's going on. The Driver isn't done yet though, and some more bodies start to pile up. Someone wants him dead though, hiring a young English hitman, Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), to knock him off. Cop and Cicero continue to follow the clues, but Killer is hot on the trail too. Who can get to Driver first, or will he get them instead?
Story-wise, 'Faster' is about as simplistic as you're going to find. Dude needs to kill five people, cops want to stop him, killer wants to kill him. Handled correctly though, you're going to find a quality finished product. It reminded me a lot of 1978's The Driver, a story similar in characters and tone, even addressing the stars by their occupation (driver, cop, killer). And as I mentioned, Faster could have been released in the 1970s and no one would have batted an eye. There are no pretensions about delivering a message here, just a man looking for revenge (his reasoning is revealed, and you definitely side with the Driver here), wielding a bad-ass six-shooter Magnum and driving a classic early 1970s SS Chevelle.
I've always liked Dwayne Johnson, and he shows with his part here he's got some legitimate talent. Granted, he says about 50 words the whole movie, but that's a minor thing. The man is a beast and looks like he could kill an elephant by flexing his arms a couple times. It is definitely good to see him return to his action roots, and hopefully he sticks with them. Driver is an anti-hero, but not one without any redeeming qualities. You're rooting for him, and as the bodies mount, he begins to question what he's doing and what purpose it serves. That's my kind of anti-hero, one struggling from within about what if he's doing is right. The ending and how it resolves everything (one somewhat obvious twist aside) is a little predictable, but not a movie killer. Kudos to the Rock, and welcome back to action.
Then there's the two men on his trail, the cocaine-using, chain-smoking cop two weeks away from retirement (uh-oh, heard that before), and the maniacally egocentric but very talented hit man. First, Thornton looks, feels, and is the perfect choice for Cop. You just know he's got a checkered past as involved as the crooks he's chasing, and he may know more than he's letting on. Jackson-Cohen is more hit or miss with a character that could have been cut out almost completely from the story without affecting much. It's just an unnecessary character in a story that doesn't require him to be there. Also watch for Tom Berenger as the warden, Lost's Maggie Grace (looking great) as Lily, Killer's fiance, Moon Bloodgood as Cop's ex-wife, and Lester Speight, Courtney Gains, John Cirigliano and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the Driver's intended victims.
As the movie moved along to Clint Mansell's appropriately moody and memorable score, I couldn't help but think of Faster as a modern day western. Instead of six-shooters and horses, we've got classic cars and automatic weapons. Right down to the characters and their background is reminiscent of the western hero, the loner riding into town on his horse. The three main characters are all deeply flawed and seem to know they're doomed but continue on the road they've chosen regardless. You just know they're all going to meet at some point down the road, just not who's going to make it out alive.
Faster <---trailer (2010): ***/****