Today the Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is released from prison, a place where he had made many enemies in ten years, unafraid to defend himself far further than was necessary, with extreme violence. He receives a pep talk from the warden (Tom Berenger) about being rehabilitated back into society, but he's not listening, itching to get back out to the world and complete his mission. Once on the outside, he heads over to a nearby junkyard where a car, a gun and ammunition lie hidden for him. Now he's ready.
Johnson, or The Rock to give him the name many of his fans knew him as, had been what was being called doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger in the years before Faster was released. That is, after a bunch of action movies for grown-ups, he had switched to crowd-pleasing comedies, mostly for kids, as an attempt to cash in on that fanbase who enjoyed seeing his wrestling appearances. While this kept him in the public consciousness, it didn't do his easygoing hardman image much good; the easygoing part was fine, but movies like Tooth Fairy were not.
So it was with Faster he tried his hand at the kind of revenge thriller Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin would have opted for back in the seventies. Imagine Bronson had been cast in Point Blank and you'd have some idea of the atmosphere they were constructing, only with an interesting moral dimension. It wouldn't win awards for originality, the plot of the ex-con seeking out those who have done him wrong being hackneyed even forty years before this was released, but the script from brothers Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton went, however tentatively, to a place not often travelled by its predecessors.
Not that audiences turned out in droves to see it, as this underperformed at the box office in spite of Johnson's presence, but he would not be too bothered as his other action movie in the space of mere months Fast & Furious 5 went on to be one of the year's biggest hits, thereby proving people were happy to see him in car chases and fisticuffs - just not in this example. And it was true this was fairly generic stuff as the Driver hunts down the members of the gang who murdered his brother and took their ill-gotten gains from a bank heist in the process. Before the opening credits are even over, he has planted a bullet between the eyes of Courtney Gains, with the promise of more of that retribution to come.
He already has the names and whereabouts of the gang thanks to paying up for someone to find them for him (actually, he winds up not having to pay in an amusing scene), so it's a matter of visiting them and seeing them off. Really this simplicity would have been better to stick to, as the other main characters, Billy Bob Thornton's corrupt cop who assigns himself to the case, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a slick multi-millionaire hitman, seem more like distractions, especially the latter (we see him "beating" yoga at the beginning, which does little to make us warm to him). Carla Gugino was there to clean up after the Driver, being the detective who should have been on the case, but where this was interesting was in its acknowledgement that a lot can happen in ten years. Therefore the gang members of a decade before are mostly now the family men (and women) of today, having settled down in many instances and objects of potential forgiveness for the Driver. Will he be able to do so? Therein lies the tension in a straight ahead thriller a cut above the average - but only just. Music by Clint Mansell.