(Warning, contains slight spoilers)
Ah, now this is more like it. For a while there I thought we’d lost you Dwayne. Don’t get me wrong, you were as likeable as ever in all those affable little kids movies like ‘Race to Witch Mountain’ and ‘The Tooth Fairy’, but it was beyond fine time that you returned to your bread and butter, that being a good nitty gritty hard boiled action flick. This last year we were blessed with two such outings from the former WWE superstar, both with similar titles; that being ‘Fast Five’ and ‘Faster’, the former of which I have yet to see (although it’s on my list) and the latter of which will be the focus of this review.
In this movie Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays a man, known only as ‘Driver’, who is hellbent for revenge against the large group of people who murdered his brother and left him for dead in a robbery gone wrong. He and his brother had been hired into this group of assorted criminals as getaway drivers, but unbeknownst to them, it had been a set-up and they were the ‘expendable’ ones who had to take the fall. Now several years later our ‘Driver’ is through with his prison term, and is ready to go out and get himself some serious effing payback on these scumbags, which he does quite capably, delivering bullets through skulls and knives through hearts left and right.
Johnson in this movie doesn’t so much play a person, but an emotion, pure unadulterated anger. Our driver does not waste anytime getting started on his quest for blood either. Right at the beginning of the movie, he literally runs out of prison, and then a few subsequent miles, to a nearby town where he finds waiting for him, his classic 70s sports car (badass action heroes always have to have cool OLD cars) a big gun, lots of bullets, and a list of soon to be, very, very, very dead lowlife murdering sons of bitches. The Rock has never looked tougher, meaner, or more menacing than he does in this film.
This is one of those movies that keeps a lot of things close to its vest. If you put a little thought into it you can probably figure out where most of the little plot lines are going, though it isn’t as obvious as some others. But even if you do figure it all out, for me anyway, it doesn’t make the movie any less enjoyable here. Appearing here alongside the Rock is Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a detective who, is, of course, just a few weeks/days away from retirement. And of course, you know the rule, in an action movie, any cop that near retirement is doomed to a horrible end somehow, although I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it whether that holds true or not here. Thornton’s character here is “assigned” to this case after the Driver’s murder spree begins. When he’s not trying to crack that tough nut of a case, we see him in some genuinely tender scenes with his son, with whom he has visitation rights through his ex-wife. While on the job he is under the supervision of a female officer named Cicero played here by Carlo Gugino, who does a good job in one of those roles that requires her character to fit all the pieces of a rather convoluted puzzle together, several steps too late.
The other main character in this three-pronged character feature is a wealthy hit-man played with great British flair by Oliver Jackson-Cohen (known as Killer), hired by someone associated with the people who set up our Driver all those years ago, to find and kill him before he finishes disposing with all of their worthless corpses. This hit-man isn’t just a one note, far away menace though, but a fairly well built character (with one of the more clever ring-tones in recent movie history) who keeps in frequent contact with his therapist, with whom he communicates on the phone in the middle of doing jobs. During one such talk, he decides that he’s finally had enough of the crazy life of a professional killer, and just wants to settle down and get married, and start a family with his long-time girlfriend. But of course, before he can do all this, he just has to take on ‘one more job’. Uh-huh.
These three men are pitted on a collision course with each other, with many secrets to be revealed along the way. They all have their own motives, the Driver, simply wanting revenge, the Cop, just trying to close the book on a dark chapter of his life, and return to a normal existence with his family, and the Hit-man, who takes this job simply for one dollar, is of course not motivated by greed, but by the excitement of the chase, and the thrill of taking on someone who is his equal in terms of the required skillset of his profession.
During the course of his murderous revenge fueled rampage, the Driver does indeed off some very evil people, including one particularly disturbing would be rapist, who it would be hard to argue didn’t deserve what they got. But along the way he also finds some in the list who, in the past decade have moved on with their lives, started families, and attempted to put their grisly past behind them, one who has even become a minister with a weekly radio program. These scenes in which our protagonist finds himself dealing with these more repentant men (who don’t for a second deny that this man does deserve retribution from them for their past deeds) are what raises this movie slightly above your average shoot em’ up. The characters are all well established, Thornton’s probably the best of all, although that’s more to do with just what a terrific actor he is, than how well the part was written. In the end, it delivers on that visceral shoot em’ up level too though, as well as just being a good hard boiled revenge thriller as well. So with that said, I give it a good above average recommendation. It’s a smart, well made, character driven action film, with a fair amount of suspense, and of course, a great deal of amped up action packed badassedrey from The Great One.