Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 mins
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino
Genre: Action, Vigilante
Country: USA

Having spent more than a chunk of change in prison for a botched bank robbery that saw his gang double crossed and his brother killed the getaway driver (Johnson) sets his sights on bringing about to speedy death of all those involved with only cops (Gugino and Thornton) between him and his special kind of justice.

The vigilante film is a genre that’s particularly close to my cinema-going heart, it allows you to live out the primal instincts without the subsequent consequences as all too often it’s only the consequences that actually stop us from going rogue in whatever particular corner of the world we inhabit…perhaps that’s just me.  What a vigilante film does is highlight the flaws in society and identify where the rules, the rules we made, fall short before pitching it’s tent out right in the middle of legal and often moral no man’s land.  The story therefore is go great reinvention, it’s one man who’s decided that he will hold people accountable after society has failed him and that’s that.  

Narratively there’s little in Faster that doesn’t propel the primary story, for the most part our protagonist isn’t even referred to by name simply introduced to the audience as “Driver” and on a handful of occasions when the film does seem to thread on ground that might be interesting in it’s own right these are abandoned.  For instance when the driver is negotiating with his P.I over the names and particulars of those involved in his brothers death and the price goes up the P.I invites his piece of office muscle to get involved but one look at a tattoo and mentioning that the driver is “a ghost” and that he has “no beef with you” moistens that vigilante gland that resides within us all.  Why doesn’t a 300lb meat head even want to stand toe to toe with this guy?  Why was he effectively left to his own devices in prison?  He must be serious business right?  Perhaps…but that’s none of your or my business and there’ll be no more talk of it so drop it.  Bizarre right?  This happens a few times throughout the film as Tillman Jr. flashes a tempting piece of characterisation only to pull it away.  With the vigilante film you’re meant to feel at peace with the protagonist but all too often this dropping of narrative points moments after mentioning them leaves you frustrated with Faster.  There are some nice points with the story, the use of the found footage to cover a lot of the clunky exposition these films require is a lovely touch and it gives Carla Gugino more to do than she would have had without it and that can only ever be a good thing.  It also feeds us effortlessly in and out of flashbacks which are designed to strengthen our bond with the driver.

Johnson (as the driver) is cast perfectly.  He has genuine acting ability, you see flashes of it in everything he does, even the most action based roles are peppered with moments of strong emotional content that help sell the character.  This is without doubt the darkest role he’s had in his career (if you discount those times when he went heel while in Rock mode) but he doesn’t lose his humanity.  You see what the loss of his brother has done to him, this is highlighted further in the flashback and video footage and the more primal and animalistic he is the more human he seems.  He has apparently been cast to play Charley Pride in Pride’s biopic which will be a fantastic challenge and, perhaps, a new avenue in his film career and should showcase what wrestling fans and action junkies have known for some time now.  Thornton’s performance is straight out of the 'Billy Bob down but not out' catalogue, now that’s not to say he isn’t quality…he is.  The small beats, micro-gestures and moments of tenderness with his on screen son all help to flesh out a rather unchallenging role but you have seen BBT in this mode before.  Seeing him as worn out and struggling to hold it together is somehow comforting, he’s masterful.  Gugino, Xander Berkley and Tom Berenger are all magnetic but horribly under used.  You almost get the sense that this was a 150 minute film that’s been forced under 100 minutes as these performers are deserving or more, nevertheless they’re great to see…even if it must be in small measures.  Matt Gerald is an odd piece of casting, fans of The Shield will be glad to see him gamefully employed again but he’s a tough sell as Johnson’s brother, not because he isn’t Samoan but because he looks less like Johnson than Stone Cold Steven Austin does, this is thankfully eluded to.  Oliver Jackson-Cohen (the Contract Killer) plays the oddest character, I understand why he’s there, I appreciate the suspense his character brings to the narrative I just don’t particularly care or buy it.  The cat and mouse of the vigilante film is between the law and the lawless, it’s a finely balanced karmic see-saw between two characters, to throw in a third character who is lawless but is acting as the pseudo law (as he’s attempting to eliminate the driver) throws off the films centre of gravity.  You add that to the fact that he has several under developed and aborted story archs and you’re left with the only reason he’s on screen is so you can have Maggie Grace in her lingerie and if that’s the case just have five minutes of Maggie Grace in her lingerie the core demographic for the film isn’t going to worry too much about why she’s there.

There are a few other issues with Faster, you never really get the feeling that the driver can be bested.  In Man on Fire for example Creasy is injured seriously enough that the completion of his vigilante mission is in doubt…not really but narratively there’s an outside chance.  That tension is lacking in Faster, the film also plays towards a revelation that’s only a revelation to anyone who’s slept through the first 80 minutes as it’s clearly sign posted from the get go.  It is however highly enjoyable and a lot more fun that the rating system can really allow you to infer.  You will have seen it all before, you will know all the turns in the road that the driver’s muscle car to tearing up towards and you’ll know the final destination before you get there but that doesn’t mean that you can’t sit back and enjoy the ride while it lasts.


Ty said...

Great review! Haven't seen this yet...but The Rock should make more action movies like this and less Tooth Fairies.

John Baxter said...

Thanks Ty, yeah he's the natural successor to the Schwarzenegger throne.

Chip Lary said...

I've liked several of Johnson's action movies, but this wasn't one of them. It wasn't a horrible movie, but I found myself laughing in places I wasn't supposed to be laughing. If I remember right, this had a couple of alternate endings on the DVD and I felt both were better than what ended up in the movie.

John Baxter said...

That's interesting I haven't gotten round to the special features yet. I had a few laughs too but that's common place with me and vigilante films. I found myself laughing throughout Knowing much in the same way as you did here.

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