Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon square off against each other impressively in this adrenaline charged bicycle thriller.
There are plenty of reasons to knock this movie down a few pegs, but as hoped, the two leads deliver, and the bicycle action is unique and engrossing, making it a very decent movie to check out.
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a courier for a bicycle messenger service in New York City. In spite of having a degree from law school, he can’t envision himself sitting behind a desk for a living. He loves making his living in a way that keeps his adrenaline going. He rides without benefit of gears or brakes on his bike, claiming that it’s actually when you stop that you get hurt.
One fateful day, he picks up a package that leads to nothing but trouble. A young woman (Jamie Chung) is sending a… sort of gangland receipt for a large sum of money across town. A cop with a gambling problem (Michael Shannon) is in deep with the mob, and is given instructions to intercept the receipt in order to clear his slate. This sets him on Wilee’s trail, and a dogged pursuit across the city ensues.
It’s not the greatest plot in the world, to be honest. At times there’s a couple of nagging holes, as well. The movie also has a couple of complications that it really doesn’t need. Primarily the fact that Wilee’s ex-girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) is also a bike messenger, and they connect her into the story even further by making her the roommate of the girl who gives him the fateful envelope to deliver. It just makes everything a little convoluted and a bit incredulous as far as her character is concerned. I guess they wanted something for her to do aside from being Wilee’s philosophical sounding board.
The movie has multiple stylistic cut aways that don’t necessarily work for me, such as suddenly showing a city overlay with the messenger’s selected route being traced out as if on Google maps, or slowing down and showing Wilee selecting the safe path through traffic by mentally envisioning the outcomes of each potential route. That particular kind of effect is reminiscent of “Kato-Vision”. I wouldn’t call these interjections of graphics a selling point exactly, but they’re not the worst detraction, either. My biggest complaint about them is that they stop the action of the bikes rushing through the New York City traffic.
Because when the movie is biking, it’s intoxicating. Even the common, calm moments have an edge to them, as the riders are pedaling full speed through NYC traffic. There’s always the chance that they’ll get suddenly clipped by a car. And the scenes are directed in such a way as to capture all the kinetic energy of the bikes and channel it directly to the screen. All of the speeding, swerving, skidding action is intensely conveyed. There are even some scenes where they take the biking action off-road and into the park, or in one memorable sequence, into a garage. In those occasions the ten speed racing action turns mountain bike and BMX respectively.
It’s hard not to get caught up in. They work very well.
The two lead performances are eminently watchable, as well. Michael Shannon is bound to get typecast as a bad guy in his career just because he’s so damn good at it. Here you not only get to watch him menace and threaten Gordon-Levitt, you also get to watch him tweak out as a degenerate gambler… which is fun. And of course, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is comfortable and perfectly believable in the lead role. He’s just so natural and at ease in every role he plays, and this one is no exception.
Between their charisma and the pulse pounding bicycle sequences there’s plenty to recommend here. Even though the movie has numerous shortcomings, there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be found in it.