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Archive for March 27th, 2011

There was a subgenre of movies in the 1970’s usually set in the south or southwest. They often had a theme of either revenge or an ordinary mans struggle against “The Man”. They weren’t exactly mainstream but they were a lot close to the mainstream than the exploitation and B movies that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have helped popularise recently. Some of the best examples of the genre are: White Lightning (1973), Walking Tall (1973) (already remade with Dwayne Johnson), Macon County Line (1974) and White Line Fever (1975) (more on this movie in a future post). A fan of the genre and having made some family movies and crappy comedies recently Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock was keen to return to his action roots and thus Faster was conceived. Director George Tillman Jr. wanted to make the movie as a homage to the 1970s movies and actually gave the cast a “homework assignment” to watch a list of movies, I’m not sure what the movies were but suspect some of those mentioned above were on it.

If you don’t know the movie here is a brief relatively spoiler free synopsis: A man known simply as Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is released from prison after ten years, he immediately jumps behind the wheel of a classic Chevrolet Chevelle SS and speeds of on a killing spree of revenge. On his trail is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a hit man hired to stop Driver. We quickly discover what happened to Driver and why he is seeking revenge through flashbacks, video footage and exposition conversations between Cop and his partner Cicero (Carla Gugino, a late replacement for Salma Hayek who dropped out due to scheduling conflict). The movie plays out as you would expect from here.

The great success of the movie is its use of its stars, The Rock isn’t much of an actor but by keeping his dialogue to a minimum this fact is easily disguised leaving Billy Bob Thornton to play the more complex role, something he can do in his sleep. Carla Gugino is sadly underused but does well with the small part she gets. The movie is also surprisingly well shot borrowing as much of its style from film noir as it does from the 70’s movie it is inspired by. There is less action than you would expect and the movie really needs a bigger and better car chase. The story is simple and predictable, this is less of a problem than you would think. Along the way we get all the ideas and themes you would expect including revenge, forgiveness and redemption. Ultimately like any pastiche the movie pales when compared to the originals that it is a copy/homage of/to but taken on its own merits it actually works despite its shortcomings. And best of all unlike The Fast and The Furious and Drive Angry the movie doesn’t commit the usual crimes against classic cars you would expect in this genre.

The only real issue is that it offers nothing new and therefore can only be judged alongside similar contemporaries, on that basis, it is less fun than Drive Angry that came out a few weeks ago. Clearly Drive Angry is a very different movie with its supernatural themes and a more light-hearted approach, but the movies do seem to share a DNA that goes back to the 70’s and to the movies of Burt Reynolds and Jan-Michael Vincent. With this in mind, the actors and directors who chose to make this type of movie really should immerse themselves in genre classics like White Line Fever and White Lightning to give themselves a greater undersigning and appreciation of what they are making. That way we could get a movie that really lives up to those underappreciated classic movies and gets people to watch them again.

Recommended Viewing:

  • White Lightning (1973)
  • Walking Tall (1973)
  • Macon County Line (1974)
  • White Line Fever (1975)
  • Convoy (1978)

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