Wheelman is a 2017 action film about a getaway driver for a bank robbery who realizes that he has been double crossed and races to find out who betrayed him.
Since Ryan Gosling got everyone all hot and bothered with his 2011 controversial hit Drive, it’s been kinda of a thing in movies to shine a light on the getaway man in bank heists, though to be fair, it’s nothing new. Heck, way back in 1974 Walter Hill gave us The Driver, and there’s been plenty others. So it’s probably not fair to come down on Jeremy Rush‘s latest, Wheelman, which comes right on the heels of Edgar Wright‘s Baby Driver. It has gobs of style and feels right, if not a little familiar, even if it can’t quite separate itself with any real distinction.
The unnamed wheelman (Frank Grillo), who we learn is an ex-con with a teenaged daughter (Caitlin Carmichael) and an aggravated ex-wife, picks up a pair of low-life bank robbers and delivers them to the job, avoiding the small talk chit-chat one of them (Shea Whigham) tries to get started. At the bank, while the two are inside, he get’s a call from the handler who tells him that when they return, they’re going to put the money in the trunk and then kill him at the drop site, further instructing him to drive away before they do. Unsure what to do, he complies, ending up with an AK-47 in the backseat and two-hundred thousand dollars in the trunk. Now he’s on the move with a number of incoming calls that make demands, including his daughter.
So the premise is familiar, with nearly the entirety of the film set inside a moving car and the camera mostly centered on Grillo. It’s an action movie driven by unseen voices, each of them pushing the plot forward as the wheelman plays catch up. This makes Wheelman at least a little different in the pantheon of getaway drivers, one who spends a lot of time talking. He’s not a methodical machine but a talented driver caught in a snare, vulnerable and desperate. It’s perhaps the best part of the story, and Grillo, carrying the whole film on his shoulders, does good work, even if much of what happens doesn’t do anything all that innovative, relying on overwrought exchanges peppered liberally with profanity to fill the runtime. But hey, for what the film wants to be, it does the trick.
It has a few good action sequences, though since it’s committed to its narrative device, are all seen from inside the car (or from a camera mounted on chassis). This ends up being a bit limiting and while it’s not new, Rush works hard to give it some urgency, as do the actors, though it weirdly lacks the momentum the genre demands, sticking to what’s worked before. Clay (Garrett Dillahunt) is good as the wheelman’s sketchy partner and Carmichael brings some energy to the third act, however it all drives along a very deliberate road that while enthusiast will certainly find enough to get worked up about, will more than likely feel pretty standard for others.
Wheelman circles the well and dips as often as it can but somehow manages to stay interesting enough to stick with it, thanks mostly to Grillo, who deserves leading roles like this. It’s a compressed little film, lacking the space and freedom of bigger studio films of the like, and is nearly devoid of big car stunts save from a strong finale, but is nonetheless a solid bit of entertainment.
Movie description: Wheelman is a 2017 action film about a getaway driver for a bank robbery who realizes that he has been double crossed and races to find out who betrayed him.
Director(s): Jeremy Rush
Actor(s): Frank Grillo, Caitlin Carmichael, Garret Dillahunt