The revenge movie, that is to say a narrative in which a hero or antihero goes outside the law to seek retribution against those who have done him wrong, has been a genre staple since the earliest days of filmmaking. In fact, Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, a quintessential revenge story, was first adapted to the screen back in 1908.
Likewise, car movies have existed before audiences could even be treated to the sounds of revving engines and screeching tires, with a host of silent film titles in the 1910s and ‘20s establishing the genre.
On rare occasions, the two film types have collided, yielding a story where a protagonist hits the road in a car to seek out his former tormentors. One such picture hit the big screen in 2010 and generated as much controversy as it did box office dollars. That movie was Faster, and in this month’s edition of Rob’s Car Movie Review we’re gonna have a look at the film, the cars in it, and determine what all the fuss was about. So come join me!
Faster, a co-production of CBS Films, TriStar Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, and State Street Pictures, was directed by George Tillman Jr., based on a screenplay by Joe and Tony Gayton. It stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the Driver, Billy Bob Thornton as the Cop, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the Killer, Carla Gugino as Cicero and Maggie Grace as Lily.
The film’s narrative is pretty straightforward. The Driver, a former – surprise, surprise – getaway driver for a bank robbery crew, gets out of prison where he served ten years. He immediately acquires a pistol, a muscle car, and a list of the people who ratted him out to the authorities, robbed him of a large sum of ill-gotten funds, and murdered his brother in cold blood.
As the Driver begins to eliminate the people on his list, the Cop, a degenerate, drug addicted detective, tries to track him down and stop the killings.
Meanwhile, the Killer, a bored and conflicted hit man who is torn between his career and his beautiful but disapproving girlfriend, Lily, is given a contract by an unknown person to kill the Driver.
The three unstoppable antiheroes enter a cat and mouse game with mortal consequences for the slightest slip-up. As the story plays out, we are left to ponder who will live, who will die, and what is making these men so motivated to play this deadly game.
I’ll be right up front with you at this juncture and say, I hadn’t seen Faster before I viewed it for this article. While I have nothing against The Rock, the limited number of his films that I have seen originally lulled me into passing on it, as I assumed it would be just another mindless actioner.
While there is a fair share of asinine stuff going on in Faster (cops lucking into a tiny piece of evidence that flips the whole case, folks managing to effortlessly locate someone at the first place they look, protagonists facing a hail of gunfire and not getting hit, etc.), I was pleased to find that the movie actually has a number of unusual facets to it that trump the lower-brow fare.
For starters, a good bit of time is spent on character development that helps to flesh out the protagonists’ motivations. This is especially true in the case of the Cop. As we learn about some intricacies of his past, he becomes more than just a cookie-cutter corrupt policeman archetype, and we get a sense of why he is doing what he does.
Equally atypical is the number of metaphors and themes written into this film. Loss, fate, forgiveness, retribution, faith, and redemption are all touched upon, sometimes in surprisingly profound ways. The scene in which the Driver spares the life of one of his targets because the man has clearly repented for his sins and turned towards God is one such example of this.
Upon the film’s release, there was quite a bit of outrage stirred up by these quasi-religious undertones, as well as the gratuitous violence featured throughout the movie. There was even some picketing at theaters that screened the picture in the more conservative regions of the country.
To be honest with you, I didn’t find anything overtly offensive about the movie, but then again, I’ve got a rather thick skin, and count Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ amongst my favorite films. I would note that at times the onscreen violence is graphic and the movie as a whole is quite humorless, so one should be prepared for an hour-and-a-half of heavy viewing when going into it.
The dialogue, direction, and acting are above average for this type of movie, with the main exception of Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the Killer, who gives as hackneyed, overwrought, and cliched a performance as any I’ve seen of late.
Likewise, the film looks and sounds top-notch, thanks to the cinematography of Michael Grady, some superlative editing by Dirk Westervelt, and a dazzling sound effects mix that exploded out of my Dolby Digital surround home system.
Which bring us to the cars. And what a lovely collection of vehicles they are.
The four-wheeled star of the film is the Driver’s 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS. Draped in black with white hood and trunk stripes, the car is a prime example of the legend that is a 1970 SS. It wears a set of classic American Racing-style five-spoke mag wheels with high-profile BFGoodrich white-letter radials on them to complete the look we all love.
Inside, the black interior has a number of aftermarket add-ons that include a pillar-mounted tach, a trio of additional gauges mounted below the dash, and what appears to be a Hurst T-bar automatic console-mounted shifter.
On the front fenders, beneath the SS badge, sharp-eyed viewers can catch a glimpse at the 454 call-out in a few shots, denoting the biggest lump Chevy offered in the Chevelle. But was the car really a fabled 454?
Well, not so fast. First off, there wasn’t one car used in the movie, but three – a “hero car” used for close-ups inside and out, and two stunt cars.
Next, is the fact that the cars used weren’t Chevelle SSs at all, but actually Malibus in SS clothing, as evidenced by the sweep-style gauge unit that sits in place of the multi-pod cluster that true Chevelle SSs had.
What’s more, the cars in the film weren’t even 1970s! In a rare example of Hollywood not treating valuable machines badly, the filmmakers actually sourced less desirable ’71 and ’72 cars and bolted on 1970 parts such as the quad-lamp front clip.
Having laid all that out, we can go back to our original query: were any of the cars in the film packing that big 454? The answer is no. All three cars were powered by Frankenstein engines equipped with nitrous oxide built by famed mechanic Danny Sanchez, which were then installed in the cars by Cinema Vehicle Services.
Despite being driven hard in Faster, at least one of the Chevelles survived to make a further screen appearance in an episode of the TV series Justified.
Also featured in the film is a fabulous 1967 Pontiac GTO. Its gold paint — technically, Signet Gold Poly in Goat-speak — looks radical compared to the more common GTO shades such as Regimental Red, Tyrol Blue, or Starlight Black.
The car appears to be bone stock, with all the right trim and a correct set of OEM Rally II wheels shod with period-correct high-sidewall rubber.
Though we never get a look under the hood of the car, judging by the sound of the engine, chances are it was packing the new-for-1967 400 cubic-inch V8 with the hot, 360 horsepower tune.
We get a much better view of the car’s interior, which is equipped with a black dash and light parchment seats. Between the latter sits that flashy His n’ Hers Hurst shifter.
The GTO is put through some serious stunts in the film, including a multi-minute long sequence where it is raced down city streets in reverse. This particular car also went on to appear in a number of other Hollywood productions, including a pair of TV shows, Victorious and Car Science, and a brief appearance in one of my favorite recent car flicks, 2011’s Drive.
Other excellent vehicles seen in the film include a silver 2000 Ferrari 360 Modena and a canary yellow 2008 Lotus Elise SC, driven by the Killer and Lily respectively.
I must admit that I was surprised by Faster. Although it does exhibit some dumbed-down elements, it nonetheless also displays greater thematic and character complexity than the average film of this ilk. Combined with the relentless pacing and superlative choice of vehicles, I quite enjoyed the movie.
I give Faster six-and-a-half out of ten pistons, and suggest you see or revisit it for an hour-and-a-half of solid entertainment.