Since time immemorial, or at least since 1978’s “The Driver,” getaway drivers in the movies have been portrayed one way — stoic, silent, professional, guys with a “code.”
Often, they don’t have real names. They’re just “The Driver” or “Baby Driver” or “Wheelman.”
That much is standard issue in the new Netflix thriller, “Wheelman.” That’s the only name anybody calls our wheelman (Frank Grillo). You’re a bank robbing “crew” getting into his car and want to talk on the way to the job?
“I don’t chit-chat unless it’s about the job.”
One hood is black, his partner hood (Shea Whigham) is mighty hard, and a little long in the tooth.
“That’s Clint Eastwood up there behind the wheel. Brothers into Clint Eastwood?”
But when a job goes “sideways,” this Wheelman is anything but calm. He doesn’t know the crew. He doesn’t know who this unknown “handler” is who keeps calling him, jazz playing in the background, making threats and changing arrangements. He didn’t pick out the BMW he’s tearing through the mean streets in.
“Where’s the drop?”
“You’re not headed for the drop.”
And hell, he’s got a 13 year-old daughter at home who has invited a 17 year-old boy over, against Dad’s wishes. His only control over any situation he’s in is by phone.
“”Ryan, I want to talk to you about being in my home alone with my daughter.”
Our driver hurtles around town (Lawrence, Massachusetts and environs), through tunnels, chased by motorcycles and “the Philly mob,” with the haul of ill-gotten cash in the trunk, increasingly frantic as he tries to get the people he knows — the ones who set this up — to help him extricate himself from a life-threatening crisis mostly of their creation.
I first sat up and paid attention to Grillo, a TV and bit parts in film veteran, in “Warrior.” He’s got a gritty, edgy presence put to good use here.
Writer-director Jeremy Rush and his crew mix the usual wheelwell’s eye-view shots of chases, feet jumping from brake to clutch pedal and backseat over-the-shoulder shots with endless close-ups of Grillo, claustrophobically trapped in this increasingly shot-up car, growing more manic by the minute, angrier by the second.
I love this sub-genre of crime pictures, and while this isn’t on a par with the true classics of the type, it’s in the conversation. A little of Tom Hardy’s cellphone in the car myopia “Locke,” a little of Gosling’s “Drive,” and a lot of Grillo goes a long way.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Cast: Frank Grillo, Caitlin Carmichael, Garret Dillahunt, Shea Whigham
Credits:Written and directed by Jeremy Rush. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:22