Review by Paul Stathakis | August 28, 2012

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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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