Dwayne Johnson glides with a brutish gait — shoulders hunched, head level, eyes straight ahead — an unstoppable force with one goal: kill the people who had a hand in the murder of his brother. “This is the hell I’ve made,” one of his victims muses on the edge of death; “And I’m the demon that rose from it,” Johnson’s unnamed vigilante, dubbed “Driver” by the title that accompanies one of his early appearances, responds. It’s an admittedly and undoubtedly corny sentiment for sure, but Johnson commands it in the same way he does the walk and the steel-gazed stare of a man with nothing to lose or gain.

Faster is a film that relies on the strength of its types. Its trio of central characters doesn’t have names (or if they do, they are noted briefly and offhandedly), yet they are a recognizable bunch.

Driver is the quiet type seeking revenge at all costs. “Cop” (Billy Bob Thornton) is ten days from retirement, a recovering addict, and has problems balancing the job with his deteriorating family life. “Killer” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a thrill-seeking professional assassin, now bored with his career path and hoping to find a new buzz by starting a life with his girlfriend Lilly (Maggie Grace), who’s also quite adept with a pistol.

Wasting no time, Tony and Joe Gayton’s screenplay begins with Driver being released from jail for his part in a bank robbery, drowning out the Warden’s (Tom Berenger) observations about the darkness within him with the sound of a ticking clock, and asking the only question that matters: Where’s the exit? He’s a man of few words, this one.

No one’s there to pick Driver up, so he walks the walk of a man possessed straight to a junkyard, where a muscle car is waiting for him under a tarp. A photograph, some directions, and a gun are in the glove compartment. He drives to the location, crosses in front of oncoming traffic, enters an office building, and finds the man from the photograph. He says nothing, shoots the man, and leaves.

That event, obviously, puts Driver on the map, sending Cop, wanting to clear this up before he retires, and Killer, hired by a mysterious client who’s worried he’ll be on Driver’s list, after him. Meanwhile, Driver has a list of the names and addresses of the men who killed his brother (Matt Gerald) and starts taking them out one by one.

Apart from a flashback to car chase after the bank job that landed Driver in hot water in the first place, another short chase between Driver and Killer, and a couple of shootouts across long hallways, the film is absent of frantic action sequences. Instead, it’s based in hushed standoffs and actual dialogue between characters who — if you can believe it — reveal something about themselves or others while talking. Any of these three main characters on their own might venture too far into the realm of the familiar, but together, the screenplay is a constant surprise — not because of the characteristics and backgrounds of Driver, Cop, and Killer but because there’s time for each to show signs of life behind their respective clichéd traits and origins.

Our first glimpse of the killer, for example, is in his effort to “beat” yoga (which he proudly announces he has accomplished), then staring at photos from his adventuresome past and one of him as a young boy in leg splints. Here is a guy driven to prove himself, seeking a new challenge, and as soon as he realizes that Driver is indeed faster on the draw than he is, the excitement of married life with kids isn’t quite the high it seemed a few hours ago.

And the cop, whose wife (Moon Bloodgood) is a recovering addict and tossed him out of the house when he fell off the wagon, is reduced to begging to spend one night with his family again when taking his son (Aedin Mincks) to the kid’s little league game (and ditching work for a couple of hours to do so) isn’t enough anymore. When Cop and Driver meet face-to-face for the first time, after Driver visits the hospital to finish off a target he thought he had already killed, the cop ducks behind a corner and stands frozen for a few beats — the pressure of the moment, faced with possible death, weighing down upon him. Director George Tillman Jr.’s camera holds on his face, with the only artifice being the strobing lights of busted fuse boxes.

Meanwhile, Driver’s reunion with his ex (Jennifer Carpenter) is as silent as his standoff in a bathroom with another of his brother’s killers, and the stakes in both scenes are about equal. Faster, despite its generic misnomer of a title, takes its time with these genre cutouts and plays the buildup to violent outbursts (or the lack thereof) over the payoff, making it — of all things — an effective character piece.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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