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So far it has already been one hell of a ride for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the current darling of the indie scene, who has continued with each passing film stepped closer and closer to becoming a mainstream star. Yet despite his quickly raising star status, thanks in part to his work with Christopher Nolan who directed him in both "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises" he has somehow managed to retain the charm and presence which made his indie films so memorable. This latest film however could possibly be considered his first mainstream role, as he appears here as Wilee, a New York City bicycle messenger who soon finds himself chased around the city by the dirty cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who is keen to get hold of the seemingly plain envelope that Wilee has been tasked to deliver.
Now anyone who has ever lived or spent any amount of time in any major city, will no doubt be familiar with the kamikaze bicycle couriers, who frequently run the streets with little if any concern for traffic or pedestrians and it's this adrenalin fuelled and highly competitive world which director David Koepp has chosen to try and capture with this film and it's safe to say he has done an astounding job, for the film literally thunders through it's brisk runtime, following Wilee as he makes his way through the city, while at the same time battling to keep his title as the number one courier in the city, fending off the competition from his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and his cocky rival Manny (Wolé Parks) with Koepp making sure that audience are taken along for the ride as he switches between side by side and handlebar shots, to truly capture the speed let alone the frequently hazardous riding style with Wilee and his fellow couriers use to ensure that they make their delivery times. Equally fun is the consequences cam, which appears throughout the film, often when Wilee is being forced to choose between a number of alternative route, with the wrong paths being shown to their frequently bone crunching outcome. Koepp meanwhile resists the typical sweeping shots of New York City tourism hotspots, with shots of Time Square and the Empire State building being exchanged for the grimy traffic packed streets and the sleazier parts of Chinatown, as he shows more confidence in the directors chair than previous seen in his other films
Gordon-Levitt here once again embodies his character, making it clear from the start how much Wilee loves his job, even with potential death lurking at every street crossing, something certainly not helped by Wilee's bike setup which also has no brakes, due to an earlier accident which is frequently hinted at yet frustratingly never fully explained. Still with the stunt man shots seemingly being non existent here, aswell as the reports of him injuring himself after he crashed into the back of a taxi, I did wonder if Gordon-Levitt was a keen cyclist before making the film, especially when he looks so comfortable weaving his way through the city. Obviously by the time we get to the impound lot finale, it is clear that some of the more trickier and flashier riding is being done by a professional, but for the most part the distinction between stuntman and Gordon-Levitt is flawless.
Michael Shannon is a pitch perfect bad guy, while fans of "Boardwalk Empire" will be slightly surprised that he doesn't carry across the same grumbling tones he has become so synonymous with as the result of that breakout role. Still the level of obsession that his character processes with obtaining the envelope is equally comparable to that of Sheriff Teasle in "First Blood" or Sheriff Buford T. Justice in "Smokey and the Bandit" which bizarrely is the film I kept feeling an overwhelming urge to compare this film to, with both featuring a good looking rebel playing by their own rules and with a obsessive focus on making it to their goal, while being opposed by a member of law enforcement who just won't quit. Okay arguably Shannon's character Bobby is a much more corrupt figure whose motivations are a lot more to do with his own personal gain, in this case clearing his gambling debts with the local triads, than anything resembling upholding the law.
The action sequences are frequently inventive, while maintaining a sense of speed throughout, as the riders skip red lights, hurtle down sidewalks and frequently go against the traffic, while it's safe to say that when things go bad the results are frequently nothing short of bruising as the impact of bodies hitting the hard concrete is certainly felt, even though bizarrely for how punishing these crashes look no one ever seems to suffer any kind of major injury. Koepp also doesn't just limit the riders to just riding as quick as possibly as he also mixes things up with some fun bike stunts, while a impromptu race between Wille and Manny through central park keeps the action from getting stale if you find yourself tiring of the traffic dodging antics.
Due to the quick pace and focus on the action, none of the characters are especially deep with brief asides to look at Wille and Vanessa's relationship, while a selection of slightly misplaced flashbacks do slow down the action from the frantic chase, yet essentially filling the audience in enough to justify the importance of the envelope. Still it is doubtful that you will find yourself with time to dwell on such points, especially when it moves at such a blistering pace, with Gordon-Levitt's raw charm certainly covering for a lot and generally playing off Shannon who provides a suitable threat without having to resort to cartoonish levels of villainy or general sneering.
Baring all the usual writing flair Koepp brings to his projects, it's good to see him finally being able to bring that to the screen as a director, especially after his previous misfires, while the film it's self has all the feel of a summer blockbuster and more than a few tricks to make this one of the more surprisingly enjoyable if still disposable films of the year.