Thursday, March 8, 2012

Faster (2010)

     I no longer need to wonder what an urban Western would look like, but I can continue to search for such a blend that believes in character development.  Clearly, Faster (2010) isn't interested in this.  It wants iconic character archetypes, fast cars, and loud – but largely bloodless – shoot-outs between different types of criminals.  This isn't necessarily problematic; Faster isn't concerned with what may make a thinking man's modernized Western.  It wants to be about as easy as it can be, delving into something deeper only to find a way to graft the familiar wages of sin concept into a film that doesn't believe that dialogue is essential.
     There isn't much of a reason for this to be a Dwayne Johnson vehicle.  His burly bulk – often accentuated by his flexing his chest and shoulder muscles – does not speak to a man who is a driver and does his fighting with a gun.  But those seem to be there because Johnson's unnamed character (he is credited as Driver, I guess because Blondie wouldn't work) is a darker version of an old Eastwood cowboy shootist.  He even uses a stylish, snub-nosed large caliber revolver in an age when action films seem to have forgotten that there are non-automatic weapons, and pursues his enemies with a zeal that makes Three Hours to Kill (1954) look like a man on his way to a friendly church social.
     The rest of the cast seems a little lost, or maybe director George Tillman, Jr. just didn't have the same level of focus with them as he did with Johnson.  Oliver Jackson-Cohen (another unnamed character known only by a moniker, in this case Killer) is part hired gun – familiar to the Western genre – and part conflicted hit-man, drawn straight out of Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).  Other than his character allowing for the audience to see girlfriend Lily's (Maggie Grace) naked hip, not much is added with him.  If I were smarter, maybe I would think that writers Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton were trying to show how to men set to killing, but coming from different motivations, deal with their drives.  I didn't get that from Faster, seeing only some padding to the running time by putting an attractive English guy with an attractive American girl and showing the audience how ridiculous the idea of expecting a significant other to be okay with the career trajectory of professional killer.
     Billy Bob Thorton is fine, but plays his role a little too slightly.  For as much as should be going on inside his detective (keeping up with men with no names, he is simply Cop), he seems to be an unconflicted open book.  In fact, it is a little too easy to see where the story arc with Cop and his wife (or ex-wife) Marina is headed, a fact that makes Cicero (Carl Gugino) nothing more than a device to give information to the audience.  No of the police officers appear to act like real police officers, but for stand-ins for ineffective lawmen of typical Westerns, they do a fine job.
     My only real complaint with Faster is that it has the worst car chase scene ever committed to film.  No?  Okay, it does have a supremely disappointing one that creates no tension (because it is repetitive in the shots used) and hides both the cool looking cars and supposed danger with over-saturated darkness.  I can live with the simple revenge plot, underdeveloped characters (with no explanation of how the team of bad guys would have ever worked together, never mind the why being laughable), and heavy reliance on the desert terrain between Bakersfield and Nevada to hammer home the fact that Faster is a Western.  But if you are going to put cool cars in a movie car chase, don't hide the cars or the action.  And have the action matter.
     This isn't high art.  It really isn't art at all.  But it is an interesting reworking of the Western in a more modern setting,  I think it would have worked much better if it were set in the late 1970s, but that is a personal preference.  In terms of action, Faster isn't saturated with it, but it does try to make the sequences meaningful – at least as far as they would have analogues in a Western.  But it could have relied on more than Johnson's big, soulful eyes to convey its emotional content.  Maybe the next modern, urbanized Western will be better, but this one is okay.

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