Noir gets a gritty makeover with Faster, a tense, stinging revenge thriller where sleek action is served up with a side order of crushing emotion, playing out in the bleak and barren terrain of the California desert. And Dwayne Johnson takes over the screen as a startling, commanding figure who can persuasively kick butt and project psychological pain in rapid succession.
George Tillman, Jr. (Notorious) lays out his slick scenario raw and revved up, but with surprising interludes that allow character intensity and feelings to flow through, however dysfunctional. Johnson sets the charged pace from beginning to end as simply Driver, the guy at the wheel of a Bakersfield bank heist gone bad, and with his brother in tow. Following a successful getaway during which Driver more than earns his name as a bandit motorist who really knows how to get where he’s going by speeding backwards or in elusive circles around downtown streets, the gang is in turn ripped off by a rival mob. And during the re-robbing so to speak, Driver’s brother is slaughtered and he’s left for dead with a bullet in his brain.
But after surviving the ordeal and released from prison with a metal plate in his head, following a ten year sentence where Driver has long obsessed about revenge, the born again bad guy with a good heart who refused to die, prowls the desert towns for every last perpetrator. Though stalking Driver in turn is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a wasted junkie on the force eager to redeem his reputation by making one last collar before approaching retirement. Then there’s Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a hotshot hitman hired by one of Driver’s unknown intended targets, in order to get rid of Driver first. Though Killer is a weirdly neurotic assassin into compulsively dialing up his shrink on his cell phone, for quick fix therapy between stakeouts.
Dwayne Johnson propels this meaty plot to the edge and back as a formidable screen presence. And one who can impressively multitask terror and tenderness in smooth succession, who knew.