Not so fast, bucko ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Not so fast, bucko

My rating:

I like action movies, 'cos a good one is just loads of fun. But I also like a good serious drama that aims to be more meaningful and thoughtful. And I also also think the two are not mutually exclusive, that it is possible to combine the visceral thrills of one with the gravity of the other. Faster is a movie that clearly aims for just that, so it's a little disappointing to hear that its high-minded aspirations are being unappreciated and unacknowledged. (More so from AV Club, but I expected no more from the peanut gallery over on

It's probably because of that title. And it's likely also because it doesn't entirely succeed at what it's aiming for.

A man known only as Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is released after a 10-year prison sentence, and begins a single-minded pursuit of revenge on the men who put him there and murdered his brother. On his trail is a Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) who's a joke to the rest of his colleagues; battling a drug addiction, separated from his wife (Moon Bloodgood) and son, days away from retirement, and little more than an irritant to his partner Detective Cicero (Carla Gugino). And then there is the Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a self-made millionaire and assassin-for-hire, who is contemplating marriage to his girlfriend Lily (Maggie Grace), but is compelled to finish his current contract for a mysterious client - to kill the Driver.

No, it's not a thrill-a-minute balls-to-the-wall action movie, as its title might've implied. It is instead a grim, moody action thriller with an emphasis on the characterisation of the three deliberately unnamed men. Driver is not a wronged innocent; he was part of a bank robbery crew that was in turn robbed by another gang that killed his brother and left him for dead. Ten years later, he's practically Terminator-like in hunting down the members of that gang, so filled with anger and hatred that when he crosses the road, traffic stops for him; there are scenes in which director George Tillman, Jr. shoots him as if he were the villain. But as the story progresses, Driver's humanity begins to peek through - especially once he finds that, in the ten years since they committed their crime, some of the names on his hitlist have become very changed men.

In contrast, Cop is portrayed sympathetically from the get-go. He's days away from retirement (aren't they all), but cracking this case could be his last chance to redeem himself from his failed marriage and career. And then there's Killer. Get a load of this guy: he survived a childhood disability to become a dot-com billionaire with the body of a Olympic athlete and an approach to life as if it were an XBox game and he's out to collect all the Achievements. He says he's "beaten yoga" after performing the three most difficult poses, and contract killing is just another thing he does for the thrill of "beating". He's a cross between Mark Zuckerberg, Tyson Beckford and Agent 47. And he loves his girlfriend, who wants him to quit - because she knows full well he's a hitman-for-hire, and even helps him pick out his guns and joins him in some target practice. But first he has to complete one last job. (Don't they always.) Also, he's British.

So I was looking for some thematic link between them, something they had in common that warranted the movie focusing on these three dudes. The closest I could think of was that they were all driven by personal demons that threatened to destroy their chances of happiness - Driver by his vengeance, Killer by his need to be the best at Killing, and Cop by his... drug addiction? That last doesn't really work, since we only ever see him take a hit of heroin once. See, if the only thing connecting these three is an emotional theme, this movie would be as much a character study as it is an action thriller, but Tillman and his screenwriters Joe and Tony Gayton aren't quite that daring. And so it's a plain old plot twist that ties Driver, Cop and Killer together towards the end, and it doesn't satisfactorily pay off any of their backstories. The oddest duck turns out to be Killer, who seems to have dropped in from another movie altogether.

Now let's talk about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has yet to find the right vehicle for his talents since 2003's The Rundown. That movie showcased his one quality that no one seems to realise: his likability. I was briefly a fan of WWE in the early '00s during The Rock's heyday, and while he was as fearsome as any other wrestler, he was also funny. (I will swear to my dying day that the best way to appreciate rasslin' is to see it all as comedy.) While he got to exercise his comic talents in his recent spate of kid-friendly family flicks, it was only in The Rundown that he made full use of both his badassitude and his personal charm. Faster makes poor use of him yet again, casting him as a seething ball of rage with precious little dialogue and who never even cracks a smile.

But credit to him for giving the role a game try. Also to Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino for being great fun to watch, and to Tillman for trying to make a deeper and more thoughtful action film. I haven't read any review yet that mentioned its suitably operatic blues-rock soundtrack - by the great Clint Mansell, no less - that perfectly complements the dusty desert scenery and the bloody retribution that takes place there. So even if its storyline doesn't all hang together, I think it deserves credit for attempting this much and accomplishing at least some of it. It's just a pity that its title may cause viewers to completely overlook them.

(And here's a deleted scene and alternate ending that probably would've made it a much better movie. Curse you, test screening audiences, 'cos it was most likely you guys who made them take it out!)

NEXT REVIEW: Homecoming
Expectations: after Great Day, low