There is something great about a revenge film. The idea of a lone gunmen unleashed on society to right a wrong is a classic theme in film and one that serves Faster quite well. Dwayne Johnson makes his long over due return to the genre he began in with an intense and powerful performance. Director George Tillman, Jr. sets a mood and tone for the film, which is reminiscent of classic revenge movies from the '60s and '70s like "Point Blank," "Vanishing Point," "Deathwish," or even a Sam Peckinpah movie like "The Getaway" starring Steve McQueen. Faster captures the same manic feel of those films while focusing on the characters as much as the action itself. The film only works because you care about the characters and Johnson, and actor Billy Bob Thornton who plays the antagonist, are so damn likable that you can't help but become invested in their roles.
One device that the film tries to use is introducing the characters with title cards, instead of giving them names. For instance Johnson's hero is referred to as "Driver," Thornton's as "Cop," and so on. While this is a very clever idea, the problem arrives when the characters names are eventually revealed. If the filmmakers planned to give the characters real names then why introduce them with titles at all? It's confusing. It's like they were going for the modern day "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," which is a cool idea but they didn't quite execute it right. What was executed well is the action. Johnson's Driver carries a gun with him that is more like a tiny hand cannon and looks super cool when fired. The car chase scenes are well orchestrated too and Johnson was born for fighting. He is really one of the few actors around today that can truly be believable as a badass action star.
The film begins by introducing us to Driver (Johnson), a hardened prisoner about to be released after ten years in jail. He is huge, angry and the kind of guy that you don't want to mess with. He has a chip on his shoulder bigger than his massive shoulder itself. Once he exits the prison for the first time in a decade and stands on the empty desert ground outside the prison walls, he is alone. No one is waiting there to greet him or drive him home. Driver looks to his right, then to his left and then he just starts running. He begins sprinting as fast as he can towards one direction with a purpose. As if he knows where he is going and it is all part of a plan. He arrives at an abandoned junkyard and finds waiting for him a sweet muscle car with a powerful handgun underneath the seat. Also in the car is a file, in that file contains the names and whereabouts of the men who double-crossed him and murdered his brother. Driver is now a man on a mission, dedicated to avenging his brother's death.
It turns out that Driver and his brother were bank robbers that were ratted out by a rival crew. The crew killed his brother and shot Driver in the back of the head, leaving him for dead but he was eventually saved and now has a metal plate in his head. Meanwhile, in contrast we are introduced to two more characters. Cop (Thornton), a veteran police detective on the verge of retiring who is dealing with a heroin addiction. He is a shady character with a guarded past who honestly cares for his sick ex-wife and obese son. Along with a rival police officer (Carla Gugino), Thornton's Cop is given Driver's case after he kills his first victim. Also after Driver is Killer, played strikingly well by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. Killer, is a self made millionaire who grew tired of his comfortable life and searching for more excitement became a contract killer. He has been hired by one of the men Driver is after, to take him out first. Now, with both the Cop and the Killer after Driver, the question remains: will they be able to stop him before he finishes his mission of revenge or will they become casualties in the aftermath of violence that has already begun?
The three main characters are all well developed and well performed by the actors. Thornton does an excellent job of creating a character that is both repulsive, but at the same time you have sympathy for. He becomes very human in the scenes with his son and you start to have sympathy for the character. While he is essentially the villain, Thornton humanizes his character so he is not just a typical, two-dimensional bad guy. Cohen's Killer is also an interesting character but unfortunately at times takes away from the main story. There is a sub plot about how he's not sure if he can kill anymore and just wants to settle down, get married and start a family with his beautiful girlfriend (Maggie Grace). While Grace and Cohen are good in their roles and the characters they play are well defined, they seem to be walking around in a separate movie, which is at time distracting. I'd almost prefer to see those characters in their own film because this movie should really be about Driver's mission of revenge and Cop's pursuit after him.
Johnson began making his transition from wrestling to film with action movies, but he has been spending his time mostly in comedies and family films over the last few years, which was a smart business move. But the actor was wise to return to action with "Faster," because the truth is no one really does it better than him. I can't imagine any other actor alive that could play this role with the same intensity and believability that Johnson has. In the end, Faster is an explosive, exciting and fun action film that truly works because as an audience member you become as invested in the characters as you are in the story.