(by Dustin Putman
We've all seen it before, many times over. A man who has nothing to lose, heartbroken and pissed off over the murder of a loved one, seeks his own form of justice by tracking down and executing everyone responsible. Directed by George Tillman Jr. (2009's "Notorious"), "Faster" doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but it's lean, mean and efficient all the same. Even with pared-down dialogue, the characters are better-defined and have a bit more texture than the action genre normally allows. They're still at the mercy of a fairly predictable plot, but at least they seem as if their lives, loves and histories extend beyond the boundaries of what shows up on the screen. Article continues below
Ten years ago, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) was just that in a bank robbery his financially strapped brother (Matt Gerald) committed. They would have gotten away with it, too, but were ambushed by another crew who set them up and viciously killed Driver's brother. Driver, critically injured himself, survived and has just been paroled from prison. With only one thing on his mind—vengeance—Driver procures a list of the guilty parties' names and addresses from a private eye and sets out to do away with each of them. Hot on his tail is Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a filthy rich software-engineer-turned-assassin, and Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a troubled investigator with a drug problem and a bitter ex-wife (Moon Bloodgood) threatening to seek full custody of their son (Aedin Mincks) if he doesn't shape up.
"Faster" is taut and economical, saying a lot as the characters say little. Funny, how the three central figures are defined as archetypes by not even being given names—they're introduced on-screen as simply "Driver," "Killer," and "Cop"—but are developed with a few more shades than is typical in this kind of film. In between Driver's vigilante killing spree and the firmly R-rated violence that goes along with it are underlying themes about forgiveness and the possibility for redemption after committing something as heinous as cold-blooded murder. Driver is narrowly focused on payback, but he is not bereft of feelings. He may not be able to ever forgive those people who had a hand in his brother's death, but, when faced with a convincing sign that one of them has turned their life around and is genuinely remorseful, he isn't above recognizing this. What director George Tillman Jr. does not consider—indeed, what movies about revenge often overlook—is what happens after a person has fulfilled their mission. After all, their actions haven't brought their deceased family member or lover back, and now they're faced with blood on their own hands.
Dwayne Johnson is tough, focused and no-nonsense here, in a return to what he should be doing with his career rather than wasting it on low-rent family comedies like 2009's "The Tooth Fairy." As Driver, Johnson could probably count the number of lines he has on two hands, and yet one senses his loss and the reverberations he's still feeling from an abusive childhood and the consequences of his past. The scenes focused on Driver's hit list, including a telemarketer (Courtney Gains), an elderly sex offender (John Cirigliano), a club owner (Lester Speight), and an evangelical preacher (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), are swift, brutal and engrossing. Billy Bob Thornton (2009's "The Informers") is superb as the cop on the case, his relationship with his son an endearing aside to a man whose troubles go far beyond what shows up in the film.
Screenwriters Tony Gayton (2002's "Murder by Numbers") and Joe Gayton overshoot their aim with the introduction of Killer, a bored millionaire developer who has turned to contract killing to get his rocks off. This character is decidedly unnecessary and kind of unbearable in his preppy smarminess—his relationship with girlfriend Lily (Maggie Grace), who urges him to leave the business, is additionally thankless—so it wouldn't have been an awful idea had he been cut from the shooting script. Oliver Jackson-Cohen (2010's "Going the Distance") fits his role, no doubt, but the guy he's playing is more a hindrance than an asset to the story.
"Faster" culminates just as expected, and that includes a supposed twist ending that is obvious from the start. Within the film's journey through formula, though—in reality, Driver would be caught and arrested long before the climax—is a gritty attention to detail that raises it above exploitation levels. Keeping the viewer's attention and not bogging down in too much inconsequential filler, "Faster" knows what it's doing, and does it well.