There’s something inherently appealing about getaway driving films. Over the last few years, we’ve had some very entertaining ones from Drive to Baby Driver. It’s time to make room on the list for Wheelman.
For much of its 82 minute run time, Wheelman plays out like a more energetic version of Locke. That 2013 Tom Hardy vehicle also had an abbreviated run time of 85 minutes. And its main character also spent a lot of time on the phone. Wheelman finds a more exhilarating lane by adding some more high-stakes drama and just the right amount of action.
Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War) plays the title character, a getaway driver recently back on the streets after a three year prison stint. He’s separated from his wife and trying not to be an absentee father to his 13-year-old daughter Katie (Caitlin Carmichael).
Back behind the wheel and ready for his next gig, the driver takes two suspicious looking passengers to rob a bank. In a fun twist on Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, one of the bank robbers is Shea Whigham, who played the SHIELD supervisor in Agent Carter. Grillo made his MCU mark as the traitorous SHIELD agent Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The wheelman’s night quickly goes downhill when he receives a call threatening his life if he doesn’t do precisely as instructed. Unsure if he can truly trust this caller or even his ally who set up the job, the wheelman realizes he’s got to rely on his instincts to survive the night.
With his gravely voice and take no nonsense demeanor, Grillo is the rare actor that doesn’t have to work hard to pull off being a tough guy. While he so easily filled the role of villain in the Marvel films, Grillo made for a compelling throwback hero in the vein of Bruce Willis or Kurt Russell.
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Jeremy Rush directed and wrote this Netflix exclusive film, which is increasingly becoming home to quality original movies. That’s an encouraging sign not just for on the rise talents like Rush, directing his first full-length film, but performers like Grillo who can further showcase their skills in lead roles.
Rush does a great job of ramping up the suspense and making every phone call a tension filled segment. He adds in a number of creative camera perspectives including hood down angles and backseat views to break up the visual experience. After all, a lot of the film is just a guy on the phone, but Rush doesn’t let it become boring.
There’s a few logic gaps like how a bank would still be open at night yet the streets are nearly deserted. And the wheelman occasionally gets frustrating stopping in any one place for too long. The most bothersome is why he insists on driving such a battered, shot-up and bloodied car when he should have swapped it immediately to avoid detection. Wheelman benefits from Rush not going to gratuitous with the violence. Even when characters get shot, there’s a realism without going excessive.
Netflix originals are slowly becoming a calling card for quality movies that lack heavy promotion. Wheelman is worth taking for a spin in your Netflix queue.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Dana Starbard/Netflix