The second feature from writer-director Attila Till (Panic) doesn’t solve all of its narrative issues in the most graceful fashion, but for the most part it’s a refreshingly singular action drama with a killer hook of a premise.
One day, two disabled young men, Zoli (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba (Ádám Fekete), meet Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), a wheelchair-bound former fire-fighter who now works as a hitman for a Serbian gangster, carrying out unsuspecting assassinations with the perfect cover. After an awkward initial encounter, Zoli and Barba team up with Rupaszov to help hit his marks, but when his boss finds out that he’s enlisting help, he’s none-too-pleased.
It’s quite the adventurous premise and one that could easily have been played for cheap, lazy laughs by lesser creative minds, but Till cleverly melds self-deprecating humour with plenty of genuine suspense for a tonally balanced thriller touting excellent character development.
Tonally, this could so easily have been a disaster, yet the overall bleakness to the trio’s life experiences (namely their unfulfilled desires) lays a foundation where savagely violent assassinations meld perfectly with the day-to-day rigours of living with a disability. To this end, there’s a surprising amount of emotional heft, the inner turmoil of Rupaszov especially apparent, as a man unable to commit to the idea of staying in a wheelchair a moment longer than he needs to.
This all builds to a surprisingly tense final showdown, and while the climactic stretch’s startling revelations aren’t quite as smooth as one might’ve hoped for, they do little to detract from the compelling warts-and-all look at disabled life. Above all else, the focal trio do terrific work and Till’s sensitive direction pays their efforts firm tribute without patronising either the film’s subjects or the audience. It’s not as madcap as that “Jason Bourne on wheels” chatter you’ve been hearing about, but it’s still plenty intriguing in its own way.
Kills on Wheels premieres at the London Film Festival on October 6th