Reviewing a film that a student suggested.
Who says young people don’t have good taste?
Wheelman is a recent Netflix film, which means the quality isn’t necessarily predictable. Honestly, I had some interest in this film when it first came out, but I have been burned by Netflix too many times. I am glad someone suggested this one.
We follow the nameless Wheelman, who is played excellently by Frank Grillo. I think Grillo adds a layer of grit to his roles that seems natural, and he fits this role like a glove. Excellent supporting actors come and go, and while each of them do a strong job, this is Grillo’s show.
The film does fall into what I call the “what-if” genre, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. What if we have a film that is told almost entirely within a vehicle and follows a single character? Well, that is what we have here. Wheelman is out from a recent prison stint, and he is now ferrying bank robbers around to pay back what he owes the mob. The evening starts with what appears to be a fairly straightforward job—drive to bank, wait for them to rob it, and then go to the drop point. However, Wheelman receives a mysterious call that tells him he is being set up, and he must flee if he wants to live, but something is amiss here. With no idea who to trust, Wheelman must outrun pursuers of different sorts while trying to figure out what is happening and keep his daughter safe.
The film is lean, and it almost occurs in real time. Wheelman is constantly busy, and this makes for an interesting dynamic. A lone motorcyclist is stalking him, and he must try figuring out what the job’s handler wants, whether his friend set him up or not, if his daughter is safe, and if he can get any help. The constant juggling of issues keeps the viewer engaged, and the dialogue is quite good. Grillo’s gruff don’t-give-a-damn attitude fits, and it works because we can see on his face that a lot of his aggression might be bluster. He knows he is not in control, and we feel for him in these instances.
Mostly, the scenes work, but there are some issues with pacing overall. As we watch Wheelman move from set piece to set piece it is easy to begin to predict the overall arc of the story. Cropping a little bit overall would have made for a tighter experience. The film becomes a bit of an adrenaline rollercoaster as it now—when it works it really works, but the dead zones in between burn off a lot of the excitement.
The film could also be nitpicked to death. The biggest oddity is likely trying to find out what bank is open at 8:00 P.M. I enjoyed the film enough to let this and other plot holes go. In the end, we have a pretty slick and stylish film that embraces the pulpy elements of the crime thriller genre. Grillo in particular plays the part well, and I do hope this film gets him some more leads. Worth a watch. 7.5/10