UK Release Date: 15th September 2017
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Attila Till
Writer: Attila Till
Starring: Zoltán Fenyvesi, Ádám Fekete, Szabolcs Thuróczy, Dusan Vitanovics, Lidia Danis, Mónika Balsai
Synopsis: A pair of young disabled men find themselves embroiled in a brutal, dangerous situation when they befriend a fellow wheelchair user who is harbouring the dark secret that he is a hitman.
Disabled actors are very rarely given the chance to shine on the big screen. High-profile disabled roles, like Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Christy Brown in My Left Foot, have earned Oscar recognition for able-bodied actors, while disabled performers have largely been shifted to the sidelines. That’s not the case in Kills on Wheels, which features two non-professional actors with real disabilities in its leading roles. The bizarre film, which was Hungary’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, emerges as a darkly comedic thriller with lashings of quite remarkable gore.
Disabled friends Zoli (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba (Ádám Fekete) live at a rehabilitation facility and spend their days imagining a more dramatic life by creating their own comic books. They meet wheelchair-bound former fireman Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), who takes them under his wing. He makes his money by doing work as a hitman for mobster Rados (Dusan Vitanovics), who believes he is less suspicious due to his chair. As his jobs become increasingly risky, Rupaszov decides he needs help and brings Zoli and Barba along for the ride.
There’s an unusual tonal confection at the heart of Kills on Wheels, which is a film that veers wildly from black comedy to even blacker thriller, while also flirting with the idea of a coming-of-age narrative. For the most part, writer-director Attila Till is able to navigate this muddled field with confidence and allows the film’s various elements to co-exist. The movie makes a virtue of its bizarre ability to underscore horrific violence with a degree of comedy. One scene sees a wheelchair-bound man stabbed in the leg, only to matter-of-factly tell his assailant he can’t feel any of it as blood pours from his wound.
The trio of central performances are very impressive, with the rawness of Fenyvesi and Fekete proving very effective in making their characters feel real. One scene, in which Fekete expresses anger at his lack of sexual experience, has real potency and there’s a bizarre prickle to the way Fenyvesi’s character talks about his father, which doesn’t fully become clear until a late in the day plot revelation sheds some light on how it all works. More experienced performer Szabolcs Thuróczy (White God) fares equally well as the sardonic hitman, who is just as capable of a one-liner as he is of taking down a roomful of people with a gun.
Till makes the shrewd choice to acknowledge the incongruity of his premise by making it the major selling point of the characters. The reason Thuróczy’s character is such an asset to his criminal boss – Dusan Vitanovics in an overly cartoonish turn – is that no one suspects a “cripple”. This bears fruit in one scene where the protagonists carry out a brutal assassination in a crowded square. Kills on Wheels also makes it clear, though, that the characters’ disabilities present their own issues. One escape scene moves swiftly from tension to becoming a brilliantly funny farce.
The narrative is filled with side plots that don’t have nearly enough of a pay-off and the film doesn’t quite have the level of pace its premise seems to require. When it’s on form, though, Kills on Wheels can be a wildly entertaining movie that has some great comedic moments, but it is also capable of extraordinary violence and packs a real punch. Most importantly, though, it’s a real rallying call for diversity in the movie industry and, for that alone, it’s absolutely worth your time.
Pop or Poop?
Raw, natural performances from non-professional actors and a nicely managed tone are enough to make Kills on Wheels work very well. It’s as shockingly violent and emotionally heartfelt as it is darkly hilarious, but director Attila Till is sure-footed enough that the tonal bouillabaisse just about holds together.
It’s a little messy in its structure and there are sub-plots that don’t even come close to paying off, but the central idea here is strong and there’s more than enough to enjoy.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.