Premium Rush: A fresh take on the classic chase film

by Michelle McGlynn

A film about a bike messenger might not sound very exciting initially, but David Koepp’s latest offering Premium Rush is far from boring. An imaginative twist on the typical ‘chase movie’, we find ourselves racing through the streets of Manhattan at breakneck speed in this fast-paced thriller.

The film opens with a man falling through the air in slow motion to the melody of Baba O’Reilly. Meet Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he is one of New York’s many bike messengers. To some a scourge of the city, to others a life saver when trying to meet a deadline. For Wilee, a graduate of Columbia University law school, being a messenger is the best job in the world. No office, no suits and being paid to bike around the city at fifty miles an hour. What could be better? Wilee rides a “fixie” which is a steel frame bike with no gears and in Wilee’s case, no brakes. Many of his co-workers, including girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), believe Wilee has a death wish. As he falls with a thud to the pavement before our eyes, it is easy to see why. A clock on the screen tells us that it is 6:30 pm. We take a trip back in time in order to find out how Wilee found himself unconsious in the middle of the road. Wilee is the best and the fastest messenger in New York, so when his friend and Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) needs something extremely important delivered to Chinatown on the opposite side of the city, it is Wilee she calls on. It must be delivered within an hour and a half, a tough feat it seems but Wilee’s up to the challenge. He soon realises that there is more to this envelope than just a letter. This becomes apparent when corrupt Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) tries to get his hands on what’s inside. The non-chronological plot reveals the importance of what is in the envelope and why Monday wants it through a variety of flashbacks. Wilee’s refusal to hand over the contents to Monday set in motion a series of chases across the city. But how long can a bike messenger outrun a detective?

Premium Rush provides its audience with just that. This film moves at a quick pace from the moment Wilee hits the ground. This means the audience never gets tired, there is no lull to be found in this film. While the story behind the contents of the envelope provides an emotional aspect and a plausible reason as to why Wilee risks his life in order to make the delivery on time, it doesn’t matter all that much. For the audience it is all about the thrill of the chase. If you are looking for deep and intellectual cinema, this is not the film for you. That is not to say that this film lacks intelligence because it certainly does not. If you are looking for a thoroughly entertaining thriller then this is most definitely the film for you. Premium Rush is equal parts funny, exhilarating and stylish.

Whether the camera is down at pedal-level or speeding along parallel to Wilee, the shots are always focused on the movement. The geography and imagery does it’s best to stay true to its setting, New York. At various points in the film, we are provided with the image of a Google Map-style aerial view of Manhattan which maps out the route Wilee will take before zooming down into the street view. Another stylised narrative tool appears at various points in the film. In the manner of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, we see as Wilee runs a series of possible routes and their outcomes in his mind until he can find one that does not involve him splattered all over the road. Despite this, the majority of the film does its best to resist relying on digital effects. Instead they enlisted a large group of stunt riders to help out with the more tricky moves. Although it is clear as Wilee tears down the streets, sweat pouring and panting for breath that Gordon-Levitt did most of the work himself, including some stunts. Just in case you don’t believe that, stay for the credits and witness his real-life crash which left him the worse for wear.

JGL Premium

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an excellent cyclist. Honest!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made a name for himself as a phenominal actor. Whether in a huge blockbuster or in smaller, independent films you are guaranteed a great performance from Gordon-Levitt. It is his performance that draws you in enough to cringe every time you think he might not make it through a junction without getting hit. Wilee has a habit of being kind of a smart ass, which in the wrong hands can make you dislike a character, but due to his overwhelming charm it is just another thing that endears you to him. Gordon-Levitt’s performance without a doubt makes this film a fun, exciting and entertaining watch.

The other bright star in this film is Michael Shannon. Shannon’s turn as a corrupt cop at the end of his tether is fantastic. He manages to be arrogant and pathetic simultaneously. Shannon looks as though he relished playing this menacing detective with self-confessed “impulse control issues”. He provides the movie with an element of excitement as you wonder how far this psychopath is willing to go to get what is in the package.

The character of Manny, played by Wolé Parks, provides some great comedy. As Wilee’s jealous co-worker, Manny attempts to undermine him both at work and with his girlfriend Vanessa. Parks is in his element playing the guy you love to hate, but he also provides many of the laughs.

Premium Rush is pure entertainment. The fresh approach to the classic chase movie is a welcome change. This film is unlike anything else out at the moment. It is utterly entertaining and it will get your pulse pounding, if not only for the sight of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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