Ever since Dwayne Johnson shed his wrestling persona of “The Rock” to more aggressively pursue his acting career, he’s made a concerted effort to break away from any risk of typecasting. Since 2007 it’s been a string of family comedies (The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy), broken up by occasional minor roles in action comedies (Get Smart, The Other Guys). More than once have I heard people wishing he’d get back to making solid action movies, but I’ve urged patience; Johnson will make his return, but only in a solid, serious movie that’s worthy of him as an actor and as an action star. Faster is that movie.
Johnson is the Driver. Ten years ago, he drove the getaway car for a crew of bank robbers. Their safehouse was tipped off to another crew, who stole the loot, killed his brother, and left him for dead. Now he’s done his time and he’s out for revenge against all of them, and whoever put them up to the job.
Whoever did put them up to the job realizes what’s happening. He hires a Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) to track down and stop the Driver. For his part, the Killer is independently wealthy and has been driven to achieve perfection in all his undertakings ever since childhood. But his style and precision are a hard match for the Driver’s hatred and rage.
Completing the triangle is the Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) who catches the case of the Driver’s executions. Less than two weeks from retirement, he has troubles of his own: a wife seeking a divorce, a hidden drug problem, and a department full of colleagues who treat him like a hot potato.
Faster does have a bit of a film noir feel to it, but it really owes the most to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. It’s really a bit of a surprise, since neither director George Tillman nor writers Tony and Joe Gayton show much of any history in that direction. And yet there it is in the (mostly) nameless characters; in the gritty, dusty coloring of every shot; in the achingly expressive close-ups; in the gorgeous expansive desert vistas; and even in the Ennio Morricone clip the Killer uses as his ringtone. The Driver is a vigilante, meting out his own justice in a land where there may be a law, but where a different code of honor holds sway.
Still, the movie doesn’t always have the courage of its convictions. It’s a good close-in action drama, and it could be a great one with just a little work. But even the title speaks to the producers’ desire to draw in the high-octane-action audiences of Crank and The Fast and the Furious; if people come looking for that movie, they’re not going to find it. The high-action set pieces are done extremely well, but they come too few and far between to satisfy anyone who just wants to see stuff get blowed up real good. And the fact that it still wants to satisfy them keeps it from being really great at anything else.
Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: fail.