The inaugural production of WarParty-produced thriller, Wheelman, continues the proliferation of actor Frank Grillo in a string of varying action roles – some more physical than others like his most recent international summer hit, Wolf Warrior 2 with star and director Wu Jing or that of upcoming sci-fi, Beyond Skyline. This one, hailing from writer and director Jeremy Rush, doesn’t trade as many blows or bullets but still bodes as an exciting thrill ride from start to finish.
The film keeps you in the driver’s seat as we meet our titular driver (Grillo), an ex-con who finds himself way in over his head whilst committing to what was supposed to be an in-and-out job for two bank robbers. With a bag of hot money in his trunk, a high-speed cat and mouse game of phone tag on wheels ensues when he learns he’s been double-crossed, forcing him to deal with a long-standing debt with the mob and save himself and his family once and for all.
As much as it is said the camera plays a character in a film, debut helmer Rush utilizes that theory amply with Juan Miguel Azpiroz’s striking cinematography. Nearly each shot, be it interior or exterior, focuses specifically on the car, its driver and passengers, or the distant blur of neon street lights. You never get a good look at the initial car itself, and as for most of the film from its very first scene, the camera almost never leaves, encompassing a cinematic application that would make Scorsese and Spielberg proud.
Rush’s script takes care of the rest while careful enough to balance itself out in the course of its progression, prioritizing Grillo’s character first and foremost so viewers can acquaint themselves gradually with the rest of the cast whether we see their faces in full or not. It’s not until the second half of the film when we Caitlin Carmichael who plays daughter Katie, who becomes pivotal to the life-and-death crisis at hand despite knowing little to nothing about what trouble her father is in, or even to the extent of the events in the film’s first act.
Despite its largely suggestive, vague treatment in certain areas, Wheelman accomplishes plenty with its simplicity. The film abstains from excess and does away with the obvious, allowing for a taut and intense contained action movie that never runs out of gas.