First, a declaration. On this site, The Rock will always be referred to as The Rock. None of this Duane Johnson nonsense. He’s The Rock. That is all.

So, Faster stars The Rock as Driver, a guy on a mission of vengeance. In the very first three minutes, he gets out of prison, and promptly drives straight over to an office building and shoots some dude right in the head. Yes! Now THAT’S how you start a fucking movie!

Turns out Driver is looking to settle the score with the men who killed his brother after a bank heist they pulled together years ago. They also tried to kill Driver, but obviously didn’t succeed – as a result, Driver now has a steel plate in his head, which is becoming something of a modern action cliché.

So now Driver has a hit-list of all the guys he needs to kill dead, just like Kill Bill, except he’s a big, tattooed Samoan instead of an odd-looking white woman with ugly feet. Meanwhile, Carla Gugino and Billy Bob Thornton are the two cops on the case, which is good, because both are the sort of actors who almost always improve anything they are in. There’s also a hit-man character, who has been hired by the mysterious leader of the bad-guy crew to take out Driver before he can work his way through the list. Got all that? Sound like all the elements are place for a pretty standard B-action movie?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Except, that’s not really what Faster ends up being. Oh, to be sure, it’s something of a love-letter to the violent, gritty revenge-thrillers of the ‘70s, and it doesn’t shy away from that influence. But there isn’t really a whole lot of “action” in this “action movie.” Instead, it surprisingly sort of ends up being a meditation on the nature of revenge. Rather than paint all the villains as stereotypical baddies, it’s shown that some of them have also become very different people since the fateful night The Rock’s brother was killed. This means The Rock must wrestle (ha!) with whether or not what he is doing is the right thing, even though it’s all he has been able to think about for years.

The other unique element is the character of the hit-man (simply called “Killer” – yes, this is one of those movies that gives people cutesy names that summarize what sort of character they are). In most movies of this type, he would exist just to serve as an obstacle for the hero to overcome. But Faster actually gives Killer his own interesting subplot involving his disillusion with the killing business and his love for a beautiful woman. This, in turn, ends up making Killer a far more compelling character than Driver, who has a much more standard and predictable character arc. You can tell the movie starts to sense this, as well, since it ends up focusing on Killer a lot more than you initially think. In fact, the original ending of the movie was altered apparently because it was discovered that viewers were particularly intrigued by the Killer character and wanted a different outcome for him.

All in all, I liked this movie, maybe even more than I expected to. I really only expected a stupid, disposable action flick, but Faster is actually a very well directed and somewhat unique take on the revenge drama. That’s not to say it’s something I’ll remember a few years from now. I won’t. But for the moment, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. I mean, if you’re a fan of The Rock, it sure as heck beats watching The Tooth Fairy.

This review was originally posted on March 17th, 2011 at Trevor Likes Movies.