Published Nov 24, 2010Intent on roughing up the family-friendly profile he's gained lately with Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain, Dwayne Johnson is a force of pure vengeance in Faster.
Opening like an Old Spice commercial set in prison, the camera lingers on the sculpted physique of a man looking more tanked-up than even in his wrestling prime. It's all close-ups and dramatic lighting, and then he's on the move. Before Driver (a title flash names him later) has even been released from his shackles, you can feel in his body language that his mission has begun.
The sound changes focus from the warden droning on about Driver's survival under extraordinary adversity during his incarceration to the ticking of the clock above his head. Snatching his belongings, Driver stomps out of prison and with no car to pick him up, jogs directly to a junkyard to retrieve a vehicle, gun and list of names left for him. Immediately after, he pulls up at an office building, walks to a cubicle and promptly paints the walls with a man's brains.
Meanwhile, we're introduced to Billy Bob Thorton's nameless, drug-addled detective. Thorton is the schlep version of Keitel's character in Bad Lieutenant, annoying the piss out of Carla Gugino's Detective Cicero with his interest in her case between hits of smack. He's one of many characters who know more than Driver or the audience. We're kept in the dark about the reasons for Driver's vengeance at first, but hints emerge during the investigation and via a series of flashbacks and videotapes.
It's in these scenes that Johnson gets to exercise a different set of acting muscles. To see him nullify his ample charm to play a naïve youth, just a little cocky, but soon scared shitless and overwhelmed by grief, then transform into a single-minded killing machine who'd make the Terminator shit his exoskeleton, is a feat that bodes well for his career.
Despite its pace and content, Faster isn't exactly an action picture. At no point does there seem to be a legitimate threat to Driver; he absolutely dismantles every opponent. Not even the clumsy inclusion of an eccentric computer genius turned yoga master/super-assassin is meant to be Driver's match, but rather another angle on the motivations of a killer. Faster is about the rippling effects of vengeance and redemption.
Director George Tillman Jr. cares as much about how violent actions affect the families of the victims and psyches of the perpetrators as he does wicked-cool car chases and thunderous throwdowns between massively muscular men. Its reserve is almost a drawback, but the restless camera work and impressive casting – Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Abgaje (Lost, Oz) are especially moving in their limited screen time – keep Faster from slowing down, even when it pauses to explain itself.
Not every moral point or plot thread is successful, but it's a highly visceral ride, packed with more of an emotional punch than typically afforded its genre, thanks in large part to Dwayne Johnson's ability to be whatever the film asks of him. (Alliance)