When it comes to 2012, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had the sort of year Jude Law was supposed to have in 2004. He appeared in one of the biggest films of the year and was universally praised in The Dark Knight Rises, received even more praise for another remarkably lauded film in Looper and added something tangible to Spielberg’s prestige picture Lincoln. But slipping under the radar was a film that got a decent theatrical release but didn’t quite connect with audiences in Premium Rush, which might be the one film he did all year that was the most fun to view.
Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is a bike messenger in New York City and is widely considered to be the best at what he does. He’s also a bit of a lunatic, riding a bike with a single gear and no brakes. And just like any other day he gets a package to deliver that’s a high priority, tagged a “premium rush,” as he has to deliver an envelope from his Alma Matter to a shop in Chinatown by 7pm. That’s easier said than done as he has NYPD Detective Robert Monday (Michael Shannon) on his case; he wants the contents of that envelope for his own reasons.
The best way to look at Premium Rush is as an action film, stripped down to its bare essentials of a plucky hero (JGL) vs. a villain (Shannon) both trying to achieve a singular goal of acquiring this envelope. It’s in the chase between Monday and Wilee that it gets interesting as David Koepp strips everything out of this film and makes it about that one task; it’s about a wild cop with everything to lose against a bike messenger with nothing on the line nearly as significant. As the film develops the film’s singular focus holds our attention because it’s the only thing Koepp is focused on. Subplots that aren’t necessary to either shed light into the past have been discarded; everything in this film exists to keep the plot moving forward.
For Gordon-Levitt this is a role he could do in his sleep and it’s admirable that he gives a fairly solid, but unspectacular, genre performance. There isn’t much for him to work with and for his part he just has to bring his natural likeability and screen presence to the role. Wilee isn’t a complex or deep character by any stretch of the means; he loves to ride because he never wants to feel trapped inside anything. It doesn’t take much to play the character and Gordon-Levitt doesn’t mail it in; it’ll never be among his finest hours of cinema but it’s perfectly acceptable work to have on his film resume.
The key to the film is in its villain, like any good action film, and Michael Shannon is an absolute riot as the crooked cop Monday. Shannon can chew scenery with the best of them on occasion and this is a time when a villain who goes ridiculously over the top makes the film. This isn’t a performance that’ll earn him awards but it’s one that could’ve established him as a villain du jour ala Alan Rickman in Die Hard.
It pushes the film from perfectly acceptable to good, bordering on very interesting. Premium Rush is a film destined to find a much bigger audience on DVD after having been lost in theatres in the summer of 2012.
There’s a quick piece on David Koepp’s idea about the film, which was as a map film of New York City with a sort of western vibe to it. It’s interesting to hear him discuss the film as something more than just a film about bike messengers. The other feature is about the variants on how they changed up each chase sequence to fit a particular mold as well as to keep from repeating the same visual sequences and style. It’s fascinating to see how care was taken to turn each sequence into something different.
Columbia Pictures presents Premium Rush . Directed by David Koepp. Written by Koepp and John Camps. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Diana Ramirez, Wole Parks, Jamie Chung. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released: December 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Jamie Chung, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Premium Rush