Two Cents Burns Rubber Alongside Frank Grillo in WHEELMAN

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Frank Grillo is one of those talents that genre fans have long hoped to see make the jump to full-blown movie star status. His turns as Crossbones in the recent Captain America films have been strong enough to make you wish he was given more to do, and Grillo registered so strongly in his appearances in The Purge films that many called for him to be cast as The Punisher whenever Marvel got around to revamping the skull-torso’d madman.

Grillo may never get a better movie star showcase than Wheelman, a Netflix-exclusive thriller from first time writer-director Jeremy Rush and producer Joe Carnahan. As the getaway driver left with a trunk full of money and a whole lot of problems when a heist goes wrong, Grillo is onscreen for almost the entirety of Wheelman, the camera locked onto him as he drives and plots and tries to sort out the mess of criminal scheming and family drama.

Set and shot in Boston, Wheelman is a throwback thriller that drew some rave reviews when it did the festival circuit before hitting Netflix. So we put it to the team: Is this one ride worth taking, or does Wheelman stall out?

— Brendan

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

With Thor: Ragnarok drawing rave reviews, it’s not too early to look forward to the next Marvel production, Black Panther! There are already strong indications that this will be another winner from the House of M, and it’s already been rewarding to see how the film embraces its blackness. Star Chadwick Boseman go this big break in our next pick, 2013’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42. We’re particularly interested to see how this film’s themes resonate in our current cultural climate, in which the arena of professional sports has once again become the stage of racial tensions.

— Austin

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight Thursday!

Our Guest

Kieran Fisher:

Wheelman is essentially an 80 minute movie equivalent of a Grand Theft Auto mission, albeit one of the calmer ones which require a lot of driving before the action goes down. That’s why you should seek it out immediately if you haven’t already. Additionally, it harkens back to the halcyon days of “driver” movies like The Driver and The Last Run; Frank Grillo is a modern actor you could place in that era of cinema and he wouldn’t feel out of place, and Wheelman is the type of gritty vehicle he excels in.

Netflix has been fairly hit or miss when it comes to their Original movies, but this year has saw a few notably worthy releases such as I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Okja, Gerald’s Game and The Babysitter. Wheelman, in this writer’s usually wrong opinion, is the best of the bunch. I’d even go as far to say it’s the best content they’ve put out period. It’s simple and straight-forward story, but the stakes are high and so is the tension. It made me uncomfortable and I’ll love it forever. (@HairEverywhere_)

The Team

Justin Harlan

Light on plot, heavy of Frank Grillo, Wheelman is a successful lower budget action flick that is a great way to kill 80 minutes of your time. As the lead of the film, Grillo’s driver is tough, while still caring and emotionally complex. His character balances skill as a driver, love for his family, and ability to think on his feet creating an interesting, if not fully fleshed out, protagonist. He is truly the focus of nearly 100% of the film, though the film is bolstered by the supporting cast, notably the daughter played by Caitlyn Carmichael (who turned in a stellar performance in the less than stellar 2015 remake of Martyrs, as well). Ultimately, it’s a good ride that feels like it will age well as a solid action drama to revisit from time to time. (@ThePaintedMan)

Ed Travis:

Wheelman sees Grillo become the nameless and titular hero of a bank heist gone very wrong. From an original script by writer/director Jeremy Rush (whom Grillo stated was working as an entry level Production Assistant until about 1 year ago when he and Joe Carnahan’s WarParty shingle took on his original script), Wheelman takes a few pages out of the Blumhouse model and sets some limitations on itself in order to deliver a harrowing crime-action experience on a fraction of the budget of most Hollywood blockbusters. I won’t be the first or last to suggest that Wheelman feels like Tom Hardy and Steven Knight’s Locke juiced up on nitrous oxide and gunpowder. The action takes place almost exclusively in or around our Wheelman’s chosen heist vehicle, with the first act relying heavily on a series of dozens of cell phone calls. He’s called by a stranger to abandon the goons he’s driving after they steal the money, or he’ll be killed. Having no choice but to follow the demands of this stranger, things get more and more complicated as the true details of the botched heist become clearer.

The Wheelman has to think (and drive) fast in order to gain any kind of upper hand or leverage to survive this situation. While I was onboard the film from the jump, the similarities to Locke were at times frustrating as our hero’s phone is just ringing off the hook and he’s juggling family issues with his daughter and multiple nameless criminals who are now out to get him. Fortunately, the vision for the film is clear, and as Wheelman’s priorities and plans crystalize, the movie shifts gears into a full-throated action/chase film that’s truly cinematic, edge of your seat stuff.

(Excerpted from Ed’s Fantastic Fest review.) (@Ed_Travis)

Brendan Foley

Don’t make the mistake of assuming Wheelman is an action film. Despite its almost entirely mobile setting and the fair number of gun blasts and car crashes, Wheelmanis at heart a classic noir story about a loser attempting to extricate himself from a hole and only succeeding in digging himself deeper and deeper. It’s an exercise that only works if the plotting is tight and the central performance works. Thankfully writer/director Jeremy Rush (a first timer) keeps things humming along with aplomb over the film’s brisk 80-some-odd minute runtime, and thankfully Frank Grillo is more than up to the task of holding down a film when he’s in virtually 99% of the shots.

That’s not an exaggeration, either. The vast, vast majority of this film is just Grillo in a car talking into a phone, and it’s as good a showcase as the reliably terrific Grillo has ever gotten. In fact, if there’s a complaint to be lodged against the design of Wheelman, it’s that the performances by Grillo, Garret Dillahunt, and Shea Whigham are so intriguing that you may wish that Rush had allowed himself more room to move than a story involving one car on one bad night in Boston. Dillahunt, especially, instantly etches a portrait of a wretched, would-be criminal climber whose desire to rise damns himself and those around him, but by necessity he comes and goes from the film in a very short window.

But it’s hard to complain when Wheelman works so well within its self-imposed limitations. As a throwback to the kind of small, adult-minded thrillers that the studios have no real interest in these days, Wheelman is consistently engrossing and exciting, and it’s nice to see Frank Grillo get a shot at true leading man status and blow it out of the water. Fingers crossed we see more from this team in the near future. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw

There’s not much that Wheelman does that’s new or novel — you’ve probably seen all this before. Even so, it’s such a solid and tight thriller with an interesting vehicular perspective, some relatable family drama, and bursts of satisfying action. Frank Grillo is such an agreeable presence (both here and elsewhere), and his likeability goes a long way in rooting for his tragic criminal character as the tension ratchets. And I won’t say too much, but one particular death scene will definitely stick with me for (what I assume is) its realism. This is not the sort of film I’d probably rewatch, but I enjoyed it a lot — and that probably makes it the perfect nugget of entertainment for Netflix. (@VforVashaw)

Watch it on Netflix:

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