[This is an altered version of a post originally featured on Hidden Remote]
Wheelman has a high concept idea, but played out at a stripped down level. Money being stolen, with cars bottling it down the street. At the end of the day though it’s about a guy driving a car trying to get out of a bad situation. This simplicity is its strength.
This is the first film from Joe Carnahan’s and Frank Grillo’s production company WarParty, with this release premiering on Netflix after a short festival run. WHEELMAN had all the hallmarks in its synopsis of a straight-to-video version of DRIVE. And if I’m being honest, that’s all I expected it to be.
I was very, very wrong. WHEELMAN is a very tight and very good thriller.
First off, this film wouldn’t have worked without Frank Grillo’s central performance. He is a family man, vulnerable after being thrown into a life or death situation. He is out of his depth, but you can see it in his face, in his voice, in his choice of words. If you ever caught him as supporting characters in THE GREY, ZERO DARK THIRTY and in the CAPTAIN AMERICA films, then this is a very convincing showcase for what he is capable of as a leading man.
Like a cross between Joe Carnahan’s own Stretch and Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE (notice I’m avoiding the comparisons with Locke, as I haven’t seen it), it is well shot, the action is effectively kept to space of the car.
The score isn’t OTT. It doesn’t overpower the quieter moments, it merely compliments them. The sound design deserves recognition also, especially when they decide to leave the soundtrack of a Porsche drive a scene.
Supporting players include an unhinged mohawk-sporting Shea Wingham. It’s great seeing him pop up in smaller titles like this and in Cop Car, as well as in bigger fare like KONG: SKULL ISLAND. Garret Dillahunt is also the other big name. He seems to play smarmy and cowardly like no-one else in the business and his Clayton is a modern-day version of his character from DEADWOOD.
I want to applaud the director Jeremy Rush for having the confidence to slow down the film for a tense tunnel standoff which had me glued to the screen, which in lesser hands wouldn’t have held any kind of impact.
There’s a joke in this season of SOUTH PARK, “Hello Netflix, you’re already greenlit,” which combined with the recent news of Netflix making 80 movies next year, implies that we may get fed up of the upcoming saturation of Netflix films. If they are of the quality of this, then bring it on.
Wheelman is out now on Netflix.