The Mob’s Reel: Frank Grillo Shines in Tense, Pulpy ‘Wheelman’
The Mob’s Reel is a film column that features reviews and essays covering everything from the latest blockbusters to standout indies.
Netflix’s Wheelman is a tightly-wound crime thriller starring Frank Grillo as a getaway driver dealing with a heist gone wrong. Clocking in at just over eighty minutes, there’s hardly a wasted moment in this lean, well-crafted exercise in pulp minimalism, making for a confident debut by writer-director Jeremy Rush.
Grillo gives a coiled, shaggily naturalistic performance as a small-time criminal struggling to get out from under the thumb of a mysterious blackmailer as he skirts across Boston. He feels like a genuine person rather than an embodiment of action star tropes, and this is largely due to the actor’s subtle yet layered approach; he’s sincerely scared and desperate, forced to think on his feet as he struggles to extricate himself from a brewing gang war, particularly after his ex-wife and daughter are threatened.
Since they share similar influences, I’m sure many will compare Wheelman to Edgar Wright’s recently-released Baby Driver, but Rush’s film is a smaller, more contained affair. Taking place over the course of a single night, the bulk of the film is shot from within a vehicle, giving things a claustrophobic sense of urgency. Much of Wheelman’s tension stems from Grillo’s in-car phone conversations, whether the character is reluctantly following instructions from a blackmailing gangster or chewing out Garret Dillahunt’s shady Clay for getting him into this mess. When the action hits, bullets fly and rubber is burned in chaotic bursts, but it’s Grillo’s magnetic performance that whitens knuckles by giving us a character we actually worry about when shit hits the fan.
There are few bells and whistles here; Wheelman is just a solid, low-key crime flick and a terrific showcase for Frank Grillo.