Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Movie review: Wheelman, dir Jeremy Rush (2017)

A Netflix original movie, ‘Wheelman’ is shot almost exclusively inside or from the bodywork of cars, initially a manual BMW sedan. Due to great camera work you don’t feel claustrophobic, despite the deliberately limited visual lexicon. This film is cinematic and, although the story is complex enough, the visual elements used are minimal, making the thing feel very pure.

Its dialogue is emotionally laden, which is cathartic for the viewer – we often feel like expressing strong emotions, but are prevented from doing so by convention or out of fear of making those near us respond in kind – so there’s this aspect of the movie as well to provide entertainment. So, loose language and a speeding car: a sure recipe for uncomplicated fun.

It’s a good genre movie with a backstory that isn’t entirely clear even by the end of the show. It’s a crime thriller that chronicles what happens after a bank robbery. A lot of the story relies on phone conversations that the driver (the “wheelman” of the movie’s title, played by Frank Grillo) conducts with others involved in the heist. There is gunfire and death but strangely what endures after the credits roll is the importance of close personal relationships.

So, another simple trope is used and on top of it is the idea of the value of expertise. The getaway car driver was chosen for the job at hand because he’s good at driving cars. He knows how to make a manual go fast on city streets, he can slide the BMW through corners and end up facing the right way, he can use the pedals and the wheel. So he’s a man who is used to some form of discipline; he’s not just a thug who holds a gun and points it at people. He’s a kind of specialist and this sets him apart from the other characters who appear – mostly in the form of voices on the other end of a telephone connection – in the film. Then there’s his daughter, a 13-year-old whom he has taught how to drive and who displays uncommon bravery and intelligence.

The movie made little splash when it first came out and that I only heard about in passing on Twitter while following the Netflix hashtag. It is a small-target production so its reception is not surprising though it’s much better than other Netflix originals I’ve started, such as the awful ‘The Discovery’ (which stars Robert Redford as a scientist). ‘Wheelman’ deserves to be more talked about, and I’m sure we’ll get more product from Rush, who also wrote the screenplay.

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