The tough guy movie of the year is here. Faster is all about the characters and attitude, much more so than action. This is how you make a cool movie. It’s not just set pieces. It’s an overall tone.

driver (Dwayne Johnson) gets out of prison and goes on a rampage, shooting people before you even know what’s going on. This is a list movie, where they introduce all the bad guys and then Driver goes through killing them all. That might remind audiences of Kill Bill but to me it harkens back to Point Blank. There’s no watered down “likeability” but it’s full of respect and honor.  The characters accept their role in this story and have their confrontations.

Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is on Driver’s tail, and Killer is just interested in conquering another quest. He’s already a perfect physical specimen. He just needs a more dangerous game. Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) is on the case, but he’s not a very good cop. Each character speaks to what another character lacks, and it’s a more interesting triangle than usual.

Driver is the best character The Rock has ever played, and that includes The Rock. His actions are so stark before he does pretty much any talking, it just brings us into this story. We don’t have to know Driver’s motivations right away, but we’ve got to stick with him because we’re already in too deep to get out.

I like The Rock, and Johnson is good at comedy too, but it’s cool to see him take a serious badass role. There’s a lot of staring going on. He’s sweaty and gritty. He crosses several lanes of traffic without looking. Of course we know the cars will stop but he doesn’t care. He tosses an interventionist card because he’s not going to talk about his feelings. The Rock is back in action, and better than ever.

George Tillman, Jr. may not have a lot of action set pieces in Faster but he knows how to play visually. His character introductions are completely informative, incorporating behavior and visual cues with slow motion, music and humor. Driver’s reunion with his car is a big deal, even though there’s not really a car chase. There kind of doesn’t have to be, because Driver probably wouldn’t risk his beauty.

Faster brings back all the classic elements that have been missing from movies and takes them to new levels. Driver is one of those miraculous cases of survival who should be dead but he’s back. The hit man is obsessed with excellence and conquering all challenges. There is actually a character close to retirement, and the “one last job” angle has a way different context here. There’s even a gratuitous strip club scene, although they’re all in bikinis. Damn.

The film introduces some new twists too. Real things happen to these characters in between plot points. The deadbeat cop who works too much actually chooses his family in an interesting, still morally ambiguous way. They deal with relationships, addictions, families and religion. Some films throw that in to pretend they have more of a plot, but Faster actually delivers the drama.

I do wonder how all these expert drivers in movies have time to work out and study martial arts too. Learning how to drive that well must take hours and hours behind the wheel every day for your entire life. Those are good skills but you’re still in a seated position. What, you drive for six hours, lift weights for two and do kata before bed?

Faster is just a solid, aggressive thriller. The title might suggest more action than the movie actually delivers, because that’s probably the only way to market it. It’s actually a refreshing minimalist character piece, but man does it propel you through Driver’s anger and Killer’s obsession. Dare I say Faster is also furious? I dare.