Friday, December 19, 2014

Faster

3.5/4

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace, Matt Gerald

Rated R for Strong Violence, Some Drug Use and Language

I love mysteries where the motivations are hidden from us.  Too often, movies are so eager to explain why people do what they do when they're often more interesting when the movie makes us wonder.  A film that asks "why" is usually going to be better than one that asks "what."

A man (Johnson) is just being released from a 10 year prison sentence.  No one knows his name, but everyone seems to know his face.  The day after he walks out of the prison gates, he goes into a telemarketing office and puts a bullet in a man's head.  He then vanishes without a trace.  A drug-addicted cop approaching retirement (Thornton) is on his trail, as is a contract killer (Jackson-Cohen) hired by an unknown employer.

Saying more would spoil the movie, but this isn't your garden variety thriller.  Those looking for edge of your seat suspense or bone-crunching action won't find it here; it's not that kind of a movie.  In many ways, it's as much a tragedy as a thriller.  This is a movie about people who are varying degrees of "bad," although some of them try to be good (or at least have a good motivation to do what they do).

The performances are strong across the board.  Dwayne Johnson, who has long since buried his WWE past, is quite good as the unnamed character (he's only referred to once as "Driver" by a subtitle).  He doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but Johnson has tremendous screen presence and a surprisingly expressive face.  As the Cop, Billy Bob Thornton is his usual reliable self, playing a man who is barely keeping himself together.  It's not a terribly unique character, but Thornton doesn't sleepwalk through it.  The most interesting character is the Killer, played by another young Brit who is on his way to becoming famous for playing creeps: Oliver Jackson-Cohen.  He's not as terrifying as Dan Stevens in "The Guest," but then again he isn't meant to be.  The Killer is vain and narcissistic and approaches contract killing as a hobby, and in an interesting turn of events, his girlfriend Lily (Grace) is well aware of his homicidal tendencies (she even helps him pack his weaponry).  Up until their subplot takes a turn for the conventional, these two are interesting enough for their own movie.  That being said, I wouldn't mind spending more time with them.

Director George Tillman Jr. directs the film with a more pensive tone than one might expect.  There's plenty of gunplay, but it's in short bursts.  He's interested in slowly revealing what drives the characters.  None of this comes at the expense of pacing, which runs along at a perfectly balanced clip.  Not too slow but not to fast.  Tillman also demonstrates a gift for sleight-of-hand; I never figured out the answers until he intended me to, and the final twist at the end blindsided me.  Special mention must go to a showdown with a preacher, which due to the performances and the careful handling by Tillman Jr., crackles with suspense and human drama.

This isn't the movie that you'd think you'd get, but it's much, much better.

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