Like the heroin-addicted cop he plays in “Faster,” the aggressive new thriller in which he co-stars opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton rarely minces words. So when he volunteers an assessment of American movies today, you can expect nothing less than brutal candor.
“We’re living in a time where we’re making the worst movies in history,” says Thornton, 55, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter and star of 1997’s “Sling Blade,” which he directed.
“They’re geared toward the video game generation. These games — which I’m on my son about constantly — are people killing for fun,” he says. “Traditionally in movies, there’s always been some lesson in violence. Even in Sam Peckinpah’s movies — I think that, inadvertently, Peckinpah created ‘Faster’ and a lot of others — the violence is grounded in a morality tale. Showing violence just for the sake of it, I don’t believe in that.”
The difference, he says, between “Faster” — in which Johnson is driven to kill the gangsters who murdered his brother — and films that glamorize violence is that here there are consequences. No character is unaffected by Johnson’s descent into the moral abyss, and that, Thornton says, is how it should be.
Despite his sometimes-strained relationship with the media, particularly at times where his bluntness has backfired, Thornton says he enjoys speaking about “Faster” because it represents an anomaly in today’s marketplace — a story made the old-fashioned way.
“This movie did not rely on computers,” he says. “It’s kind of like a ’70s movie — if we’re chasing each other down a hallway, it’s a hallway. We’ve done something real here. Most movies are about vampires in 3-D or war eagles, whatever they are. When you’re an actual actor and you get to do something real, it’s nice to talk about it.”
Thornton is not the most reticent celebrity, and he does not want to be. All he asks is that his words not be distorted.
“When we make a movie, it’s good to be able to say, ‘Hey, good to see you’ without being stuck in the [butt],” he says. “There are guys who will not do a movie for three years, won’t talk to anybody, hate the fans and won’t sign your kid’s thing, and [writers] just love ’em anyway.
“I might say a few too many things, but I’m trying, I will sign your kid’s thing, and I’ll tell you what I think about that chick, or any chick. The fans are the people who allow my kids to go to school and help pay for the house.
“If we’re going to be honest and forthcoming, [the writers] owe us not to twist what we say just because I said something bad about cats and you happen to like cats. It’s that simple.”
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Maggie Grace, Carla Gugino
Written by Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes