Netflix UK film review: Wheelman
The Grillo effect8
Mike Williams | On 25, Oct 2017
Director: Jeremy Rush
Cast: Frank Grillo
Watch Wheelman online in the UK: Netflix UK
From the claustrophobic interior car opening, Wheelman bears an unmistakable likeness to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. In fact, it feels like something of a spiritual successor to the indie crime-noir film, but as it develops, Netflix’s latest original film morphs into a beast of its own.
Jeremy Rush’s heist movie does a sterling job of quickly affirming itself as a well-constructed and directed action flick. Frank Grillo plays a getaway driver who refuses to reveal his name, which introduces us to a main character who’s mysterious by nature and a story that gradually unpacks his complicated family life, as it intertwines into the dangers of gang affiliations and double-crossing. At around the 80-minute mark, Wheelman is brief enough to squeeze into your spare time but justifies that squeeze in its thriftiness of a simple narrative, serving its allotted time well and not outstaying its welcome. The plot remains straight to the point and no-frills as a narrative can be.
It’s the type of film that doesn’t rely on any CGI, either. Refreshingly, the action sequences are achieved by actual stunt people, skilled drivers, well-planned choreographers, and some assured direction on Rush’s part. The result is a raw and intensely paced journey through an inner city underbelly that poses dangers from every conceivable corner Grillo’s short-tempered, increasingly frustrated character drifts around.
We’re guided through these dark and dimly lit night-time streets, while the camera remains fixed inside the car. This is a staple for a vast majority of the movie, adding to its tense, claustrophobic intent, as paranoia and self-doubt are brought into question regarding Wheelman’s task and the supposed allies around him. Similar to single location films such as Phone Booth and Buried, Wheelman uses that idea and twists it into its own identity.
Grillo is ideal for the part. A rough and ready actor who has so often been part of a bigger picture in his past films, his leading man effort is strong and he commands the role with authority. Often, we feel his confusion, betrayal, and heart-sinking dread – largely due to us being there experiencing events unfold as he does.
Wheelman’s a pleasant surprise of an indie thriller. It’s balanced enough to give us a pleasing amount of character development and sufficient exposition to inform us about Grillo’s lead, while keeping us guessing as the story unfolds. The dialogue’s occasional clunkiness aside, the frequent thrills and spills of speeding cars through the eerily sparse or car-jammed streets will impress the adrenaline junkies and anyone with a penchant for past movies such as Bullit or The Italian Job.
Wheelman is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.