Action films of the 1960s-1980s were a great, experimental period of insane car chases, bloody shootouts, and shocking violence. Movies that combined all three have become classics of the genre. Bullitt, The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A. — straightforward, old-school action pictures that thrived on death-defying, practical effects. For my money, Steve McQueen’s epic pursuit through the uneven streets of San Francisco in Bullitt remains the pinnacle of Hollywood car chases, which directors and stuntmen have been striving to equal ever since.
More recently, filmmakers applied style and mood to the genre, elevating traditional crime-thrillers into a kind of high art (Heat, Drive, and The Bourne films). Regardless of era, one thing these movies had in common were gritty, hard-nosed character actors who weren’t afraid to get their jaws broken; nameless background characters and villains who fleshed out their urban wastelands. Tough-guy character actors are always in demand, but it’s rare for any of them to break-out and achieve stardom; Stallone, D’Onofrio, Perlman, Elba spent years grinding out small roles before hitting it big.
Frank Grillo is just such a throwback, he’s a character actor with more than 60 credits who’s finally breaking into the mainstream, in films like The Purge, Warrior, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Grillo’s ever-present scowl and compact physique would have been right at home in those 60s, 70s, and 80s action movies. Now he’s getting a chance to star in Netflix’s Wheelman, a simple tale of a getaway driver who’s been double-crossed and wants some payback — judging by the action in this fast-paced teaser, a whole lot of payback.
This is the kind of small, under-the-radar action film that often gets lost in theaters packed full of big-budget blockbusters. Wheelman should thrive in the more open and diverse Netflix eco-system, probably finding a much wider audience too. The teaser itself is packed full of quick cuts conveying gunfire, chases, and crashes that feels very analog (if not for the smartphone ringing in the middle, the film looks decidely 1970-ish). There’s a first-person POV feel to these shots that feels intense and visceral.
I’m thrilled to see this sort of simple, straight-up crime-thriller on Netflix. Small and indie films like this belong on streaming services going forward, there’s no point in wasting marketing dollars on films that might only get 2 or 3 weeks run at theaters, but can live for years on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.
Are you excited for an old-school crime-thriller starring Frank Grillo on Netflix? Let us know in the comments down below!
Wheelman hits Netflix on October 20, 2017.
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