Review by Paul Stathakis | August 28, 2012

Special delivery

Jean-Luc Godard once famously proclaimed that all a person needs for a movie is a gun and a girl. After watching “Premium Rush”, I can affirm that all you need for a movie is a bike and a ticket. This is a captivating picture, expertly made, that delivers high thrills as it carefully maneuvers its way through the busy streets of New York. One character makes a statement about brakes and how they do more harm than good. His bike doesn’t have any and neither does the film.  It just keeps riding along.

The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, a bike messenger who we meet very early on. He talks about his profession as if it was art. After seeing him do what he does best, it’s impossible not to view it as art. Wilee is skillful on a bike, dangerous, but nevertheless cautious. There are several moments in the film where we see into his thoughts as his tries to judge which route path is safest. He imagines the scenarios. Each are equally risky and one in particular is repulsive to watch as a bus drives over a pedestrian.

Wilee and his bike are inseparable. He depends on it to get to his destinations without ever worrying that it might fail him mechanically. He explains through voice-over that whatever cannot be delivered by e-mail, fax or regular post is in turn handed over to a messenger like himself. More often that not, if he’s being asked to make a delivery, chances are the customer he’s working for is very desperate. A woman by the name of Nima (Jamie Chung) is an example of such a customer. She hands Wilee an envelope with delivery instructions and gives him a ninety minute deadline. Enters Michael Shannon who stars as Bobby Monday, a corrupt New York cop who’ll do whatever it takes to prevent Wilee from completing his delivery. What’s in the envelope and why does it attract the interest of the cop are two questions which I will not answer. Suffice it to say that “Premium Rush” is packed with surprises, twists, and turns (literally).

The crew in front of the camera is just as talented as the one behind it. The film is directed by David Koepp, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Koepp is known for directing and writing several thrillers including “Snake Eyes”, “Panic Room”, and “Secret Window.” He’s a writer who feels comfortable working within this genre because he understands it so well. His characters always find themselves in predicaments that force them to call on their wits for their survival. Under the careful direction of Koepp, Levitt and Shannon deliver wonderful performances. Shannon has a menacing face that makes him ideal for playing ruthless characters. He’s like a Christopher Walken or Nicolas Cage in the sense that we can never really guess how he’ll react in the heat of the moment, what he’ll do, what he’ll say or, for that matter, how far he’s willing to go.

The supporting cast is just as good. Dania Ramirez stars as Vanessa, one of Wilee’s co-workers, also a gifted cyclist. Wilee wants Vanessa to be his girl but then there’s Manny (Wolé Parks), a third messenger, who is confident he can win her heart first. The chemistry between the cast is spot on and the “personal feud” between Wilee and Marco offers some comedic relief. A little side-story involving a bike cop and Wilee is similarly amusing.

“Premium Rush” is an action film that pulls off a rare feat. It is able to remain entertaining with only one gun going off. What is the last action picture that has been able to achieve this in recent memory? None come to mind and that’s because not many action films today care to map out dazzling pursuits on bicycles. “Premium Rush” thrives on such sequences. As Wilee is continuously pursued by Monday, he makes use of his surroundings to avoid being caught. That includes sidewalks, ramps, parks, campuses, construction sites, and even cars. As a bonus, I’m happy to report that all of the action is visible to the viewer. There’s a not a single moment where we don’t see what’s happening. There’s virtually no shaky camera effect here and anything that was rendered through a computer (some scenes are simply impossible to be true) is hardly noticeable. The film feels and looks real. It is meticulous in its calculations, right down to framing and editing, so much so that whenever a character zig zags between cars or crosses dangerous intersections on red lights, we hold on to our seats and our breath. We watch in horror, brace for impact, and we’re terribly relieved when there isn’t one. This is one of the year’s best films.

 

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