Review - 'Wheelman'
Frank Grillo seems to be carving out a nice little niche for himself, one that generally involves him playing a grizzled anti-hero lurking throughout the streets of various seedy locations at night. His latest vehicle (nice pun, right?) is no different. Wheelman is a simple action thriller that makes use of some very interesting camera tricks and can be quite immersive at times, but not always compelling.
The film follows the wheelman (Frank Grillo) who is doing a seemingly routine job when things suddenly turn sour when he receives a phone call from an unknown caller. The wheelman finds himself caught between two gangs that each want the money he has in the trunk of his car. He must find a way out of this complicated situation while also making sure his estranged wife and daughter remain safe.
Wheelman isn't an action film in the traditional sense, and that's what I admire about it the most. This is a very contained little thriller that rarely leaves the confines of the vehicle Frank Grillo is driving. From the beginning, I felt like I was in this with the wheelman, simply because everything was so realistically staged and the camera never pulled out to show the scope of the action. This guerrilla-style filming is a bit of a double-edged sword, though. While I loved how visceral and realistic the perspective was, I also began to get a bit stir-crazy towards the end. Picture the opening sequence from Drive, only stretched out to eighty minutes.
The story is also pretty simple, as it should be. This is not the type of film that would have benefited from a dense framework of interconnecting plot-lines. The film is a brief glimpse into a particularly hairy night for a troubled wheelman. Director Jeremy Rush also wisely sprinkles little glimpses into this man's life, just enough to add some depth and texture to Grillo's character.
One thing not working in the film's favor is the wheelman's phone, which is a surprisingly large part of the movie. It's a small gripe, but every time his phone went off (which is quite a lot) it was increasingly more obnoxious and I just wanted a moment of stillness to combat my growing anxiety, which never comes. That said, the sound design is pretty exceptional and there's a great attention to detail that really puts you in the passenger seat with the wheelman. I loved hearing every gear shift, tire screech and gunshot in stark detail.
In terms of acting, this is a one-man show, and that one-man show is Frank Grillo. Grillo does a great job as the wheelman; he's appropriately intense, emotionaly and angry when he needs to be, I was completely sold on his performance. The rest of the cast is pretty disposable, especially Caitlin Carmichael, who plays his daughter. I don't want to say that she's bad, but her line delivery is stale and much less believable.
Wheelman gets by on Frank Grillo's authentic performance, nifty camera tricks and gripping action beats, but if you're looking for something with a little more substance, you're likely not going to find it here.