Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Faster (2010)

Freshly released from prison, a man (Dwayne “The Rock Johnson”) – let’s call him Driver – starts killing the people who stole the loot and killed his partners after a successful bank robbery. Driver not actually being a professional criminal, his thirst for vengeance has nothing at all to do with money but with the little fact that one of his murdered partners was his brother, and his murder, as much as the others, absolutely unnecessary. Because Driver’s way of killing people is pretty damn straightforward, the police – in form of a straight professional (Carla Gugino) and drug addicted trouble magnet (Billy Bob Thornton) – are soon on his case. To make things more difficult, there’s also a pretentious hitman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) hired by whoever was actually responsible for the death of Driver’s brother on Driver’s case.

I found George Tillman Jr.’s Faster a somewhat frustrating viewing experience, not because it is a bad movie but because it is indeed a very good movie that suffers from one or two serious missteps that keep it away from being actually brilliant; missteps which seem utterly pointless, too.

First and foremost, there’s the sub-plot about Jackson-Cohen’s killer and his girlfriend (professional daughter and girlfriend) Maggie Grace that seems to have no business being in the movie at all. As characters, the couple seems to come directly out of one of those horrible would-be Tarantino movies (you know, the kind that doesn’t actually get how and why Tarantino's films and characters work, or are too lazy to put the work in). Worse, the hitman and his character arc have little – if any at all – business in a film about vengeance, redemption and forgiveness, seeing as he never does anything redemptive, doesn’t forgive, and isn’t involved in any vengeance. Plus, despite time spent on the killer couple that could have been used more fruitfully on characters that actually have fuck all to do with the rest of the film, the characters stay flat, unbelievable and just painfully uninteresting.

Which is particularly irritating in a film that otherwise shows a particular ability of drawing its minor characters with a strong hand, building on clichés instead of just using them, and easily showing everything you could want to know about a character in a five minute confrontation with Driver. The film’s protagonist is a a vehicle to reveal something about the nature of guilt, and the complexity of it, in others as well as in himself, here.

It does of course help that this is a film that casts actors like Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje or Jennifer Carpenter for these small but extremely important roles, actors willing and able to actually go beyond the cliché and suggest complexities in their characters the film then doesn’t need to explain in excruciating detail and flashbacks.

Speaking of acting, Johnson also shows himself to be perfectly capable of more than just looking angry or tense (though he’s really good at that) but actually gives his characters nuance through body language and looks. While I had already come to the conclusion he’s a better screen presence than most other acting wrestlers, his performance here is convincing enough I can’t help but see him as an actor from here on out, and not a wrestler playing at acting.

Tillman’s direction for its part, while suffering a bit from a case of The Yellow, is tight, focused, and, when it doesn’t waste time on the hitman, decidedly on the intelligent side, giving the shoot-outs and the violence the right amount of excitement but really emphasising characters, and the emotional and moral impact of vengeance.

And while you might think there’s not much new or interesting to say about vengeance, redemption, or the decision to forgive, Faster actually does. Or rather, the film actually places these things in a much better and more complex context than most films concerned with these things do, realizing the deed that drives one character to vengeance will be what turns the life of one or more of the people who had committed that deed around, also realizing that this doesn’t undo anything yet also understanding that undoing horrible things is neither the point of vengeance nor that of forgiveness. And while it’s at it, Faster also does subtle, clever things like insinuating that the guy who ruined your life might just be another poor, weak asshole who can’t seem to make the right decision.

Which is quite a bit of interesting stuff to find in a film that might have turned out to be just another flick about some beefed-up dude taking vengeance on bad guys.

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