Faster

Faster – 2010 ( Spoilers )

The hero, shot in the head and left for dead by members of a criminal underworld, awakens from years spent in confinement with a metal plate in their head. Bent on revenge, target list in hand, our hero puts their violent skillset to work on five dispersed targets, meting out justice. In the end, enemies dead, solace achieved, they ride off into the sunset.

Faster was born when this grim plot skeleton burst out of the body of Kill Bill, shook off all but the last traces of flesh, muscle and skin and set off, its heart still senselessly beating, in remorseless pursuit of what its sliver of cranial stem understood as its body’s original mission. It’s ungainly, it’s inexplicable, and it inevitably collapses – but it makes for a very interesting anatomy lesson.

For one, it turns out a hero that exists solely as a plot function can prove very compelling. You can only accurately describe Dwayne Johnson’s character as forward motion put in The Rock’s body, not a human in a story. He is revenge incarnate, and the exposition, while provided halfheartedly midway through the film, is irrelevant. (I’m not positive that he has a line of dialogue before dispatching his first target.) Consequently, because he exists solely to cross names off a list and move toward that sunset, the movie rightfully concludes that his targets would only be artificial obstacles, and that their resistance would mostly be bullshit. Only two struggle, and they all die standing still, courtesy of a single bullet to the head.

In other words, Faster is an action movie without much struggle, but like filming a tornado, that can work fine as spectacle. Dispensing with the “progression to the boss battle” model provides something incredibly elating, almost giddy: the idea of revenge reduced to a human body’s methodical forward movement. When Faster just gets up and goes, as it does in its first wonderful minutes, there’s everything to like: having no worry at all to carry with it can make for an exhilirating weightlessness.

Sending off two characters not on the target list to take down the hero, which the movie resorts to, would seem to free them up to provide some resistance without an inevitable outcome, but they’re also woefully unable to impede his progress. When the hero encounters them, they’re never really a threat, and he treats them like innocent bystanders, shooting at them only to send them into cover, safely out of his path. Faster rightly concludes that there’s no point and interest in denying that it has let loose something unstoppable.

Faster sadly cheats itself, however, by deciding it will stall, instead: it provides those two characters with the only effective weapon, which is an equal distribution of screentime. Unable to stop him, Faster simply cuts away to other people. Since they’re incapable of accomplishing anything significant within the confines of this genre, however, the two characters have to fill the time with something else–and they do so by returning to the discarded entrails of story arc, conversation, characterization, inner conflict and thematic exploration that the central plot had so intriguingly freed itself of and now had no use for.

It’s a weird, weird effect, all told. The film alternates between, but doesn’t interweave, plot and all the things that plot is supposed to be for realizing and representing. Luckily, it’s also fairly harmless to the overall entertainment value, akin to regular commercial breaks.

That is, however, until Faster reveals that it intends to put itself all back together again, somehow uniting the pieces whose separation produced the only redeeming value of the film to that point. The movie ponderously announces that these characters’ trifling side-dramas have been important all along, and what we saw had some meaning beyond its form.

It doesn’t work, because it can’t; but worse, it brings the whole delirious spectacle down in a heap. Suddenly the chain of executions gets a moral gloss, which it can’t sustain, and the parade of amusing-enough interludes needs to matter, which they have no way of doing.

This may have been inevitable, of course. You probably can’t make a two hour movie out of the stark, brutal, nothing at the center of this. And maybe you can’t market a thirty minute film that consists solely of Dwayne Johnson methodically putting an end to people. But done in this way, the result is, like most cutscenes in video games, evidence of a deep insecurity: the mistaken belief that the only actual aesthetic experience to be had needs, for legitimacy, to nod in the direction of what most other aesthetic experiences look like. What made the film unique was that there were two pieces sharing the same space that weren’t two pieces of any whole, just coincidental companions. Any resolution that didn’t understand this was a predetermined failure, and yet the film seems to resign itself to failure knowingly and complicitly. So why even set out to do it in the first place? Why decide that a resolution doomed to failure is artistically necessary?

When it comes to formal experiments, as with revenge, it seems, you can’t half-ass it. Whether or not it’s the right move or not, if you’re going to go down the road, then you better be fully committed. And it took seeing its plot in a whole new light for me to realize, but Kill Bill, for all its ironic distancing and tangential flourishes, is fully fucking committed to being what it is. It turns out that while the plot synopsis of Kill Bill is a simplistic way to describe Kill Bill, it’s also a legitimate perspective on the only story it’s setting out to tell; it honors and complements much richer readings of the film. In being content with that, its four hours and change are somehow more pure, focused, and right-headed than this attempt to film its story with brazen, literal, linear directness.

Maybe gritty reboots have some uses, after all.

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