Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton Are Redemptive in ‘Faster’

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CHICAGO – The Action Film is getting a bit creaky, relying more on computer generated eye candy than character or plot. It is refreshing to experience a film like “Faster,” featuring Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton, because it is an action film that means something, and puts its inhabitants on a path to their own salvation.

Dwayne Johnson is Driver, a mysterious hulk of a man who is introduced on his last day of a prison sentence. He has served 10 years for a crime he did commit, and throughout that sentence remained an independent operator, shunned by all in the lock-up hellhole. He is bent on revenge upon the persons who have put him there, and killed his brother. Someone has left a Detroit muscle car for him to use (naturally) with plenty of weaponry firepower therein.

The Driver has had a Bakersfield, California, private investigator (Mike Epps) track down where all of his prey lives. He takes the list and kills the first perpetrator. This begins a couple of main cat and mouse chases. The local police get involved, including detectives Cicero (Carla Gugino) and Cop (Billy Boy Thornton). The Cop is going through a bad stretch, estranged from his wife and kid, feeding a bad drug habit and trying to make it ten days until retirement (ha!).

The other pursuer is Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a creatively original action character who is a software millionaire that can’t jack up his life large enough, so he becomes a killer for hire. He is assigned to dispatch Driver, and has the fast foreign cars, superior weaponry and curvaceous associate to inspire him.

The Killers: Dwayne Johnson as Driver and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in ‘Faster’
The Killers: Dwayne Johnson as Driver and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Killer in ‘Faster’
Photo credit: © CBS Films

Can Driver get his revenge before the law and the lawless catch up to him? Given that he is virtually unstoppable (natch) and he has the power of retribution on his side, don’t count him out. It may take another power to defuse this explosive situation, and it needs to get here faster.

Wow. This is great edge-of-your-seat grindhouse style fare. And because all the characters are motivated and purposeful (even the villains) there is an air of literature among the shootings and squealing tires. The screenplay by Tony and Joe Gayton features a true journey, one that Driver must take to sincerely feel redeemed. The director George Tillman, Jr. (”Soul Food,” “Notorious”) imbues this redemption with humor, action movie clichés and a serious need to complete the Driver’s soul.

Dwayne “Formerly-The-Rock” Johnson gets to show off his Clint Eastwood-style chops as Driver, and is challenged with many conflicting emotions. He was particularly good in a flashback sequence, where his bank robbing crew – including his beloved brother – is ambushed by whoever has sold them out. There is real fear projected in his face, and pure anger once the murder is done. He is completely focused on revenge after that, despite his incarceration. He has maybe two dozen lines in the whole film, but they all mean something.

Billy Bob Thornton does a credible job with the Cop, a conflicted persona if there ever was one, finding a way to make him completely humbled about his ex-wife, son and potential to yes, redeem himself. His final drug score is pathetic, and when we find out he is the Cop on Driver’s case, it predicts disaster. The screenplay has the most fun with the retirement angle, even tossing in a father-and-son hope for the baseball catch and throw.

The Killer is so cool that he could influence his own film series. The British born Oliver Jackson-Cohen nearly stole the picture from his much more famous brethren. The adventure junkie is the type of person supposedly our society most admires – he’s rich, in shape, has conquered Everest and is accompanied by a hot companion. He is also bi-polar, a narcissist, on psychotropic drugs and in the most classic twist, has his therapist on speed dial. This nuanced role is deftly handled by Jackson-Cohen, and really ups the ante in this chase thriller.

Ten Days Until Retirement: Billy Bob Thornton as Cop and Carla Gugino as Cicero in ‘Faster’
Ten Days Until Retirement: Billy Bob Thornton as Cop and Carla Gugino as Cicero in ‘Faster’
Photo credit: © CBS Films

The best is saved for the last act, as the forces of the revenge killings, the chase, the pursuers and the hunted are all informed by a radio preacher on the AM radio in Driver’s muscle car. The tinny ramblings have a strange familiarity, and effects Driver in ways he was not expecting. His confrontation with the Preacher (Buzz Belmondo), intentionally made up to look intensely like Martin Luther King, Jr., has religious overtones that sets this film apart.

With shades of Tarantino, “Night of he Hunter,” James Bond and “No Country for Old Men,” Faster is one action movie that finally adds some morality to the genre. Like Driver, our lives are a road to redemption, and how we get there is based on how we push that accelerator.

”Faster” opens everywhere on November 24th. Featuring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Boy Thorton, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Tom Berenger, Mike Epps, Moon Bloodgood and Buzz Belmondo. Screenplay by Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton, directed by George Tillman, Jr. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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