Dir. by George Tillman, Jr. - 1 hr. 35 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
If you're going to do an action movie, revenge is a solid motive for the main character. Often times, that, a cool car and a star who doesn't run like a girl is enough to fill up the run time, and whatever else is there is a bonus.
In this instance, Dwayne Johnson's Driver (that's the only name given for him) is out for revenge, hunting down a group of men that ambushed and killed his brother. The car is an early 70's Chevelle, by the way. Driver begins his hunt immediately upon his release from prison, and isn't particularly subtle about it. This draws the attention of the police, Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino (Cop and Cicero, respectively). From there, it's a stylish, tense, gritty race to see if Driver will accomplish his mission before the cops figure out what's going on (and there's a third party, a hired killer named "Killer" hot on Driver's tail as well).
While there are a couple of surprises along the way, this story plays out both exactly like you think it will and exactly like it ought to. But this is a movie about the execution and the acting, as oddly as that sounds. Dwayne Johnson probably doesn't have a dozen lines in the entire movie, and yet he's on screen for the bulk of the movie. He doesn't need the lines to explain what's going, he's a physical presence, he commands the viewer's attention. It's all there in how he carries himself - even before you find out what's happened to him along the way, you know that something's happened to him along the way. He's offset by Billy Bob Thornton, starting off at the bottom of the barrel, trying to reach the finish line, almost convincing you along the way that he's the one getting piled on.
One after one, you find out what Driver's family and friends have done to him. One after one, it adds up until you can understand and feel the seething, single-minded focus of Driver. I'm not going to pretend the culmination of the story is a twist on the level of "The Usual Suspects" or anything like that, but it's more enough to satisfy the journey.
I found myself more than pleasantly surprised by "Faster." I was happy enough to see Johnson away from children's movies (there's not necessarily anything wrong with them, but where have all my action stars gone?), but this was a benchmark performance in his career, the sort of role that few could pull off. If you were to compare Johnson in "The Rundown" or "Doom" to "Faster," it's clear that he's getting better. After this role, I'm eagerly looking forward to whatever comes next.
4 / 5 - Theatre