Kills on Wheels

Representation is the big issue – who is having their stories told and which actors are being deprived of acting opportunities. Unfortunately, race and gender are as far as this dialogue have been extended. People who have lifelong disabilities either by accident or birth are seeing opportunities hoovered up by the likes Eddie Redmayne hamming his way to awards glory. This is where Eureka’s latest acquisition, Kills on Wheels, comes in to the picture. This modest Hungarian thriller tells of a wheelchair bound Hitman, Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), and his difficulties in making the transition from an active lifestyle as a fireman to someone imprisoned by his wheelchair. Simultaneously there are teenage best friends Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba (Ádám Fekete) who are struggling to cope with their debilitating conditions, together they are writing a comic book to help them escape their circumstances, if only for a little while.

What is in a title? The original title ‘Tiszta szívvel’ translates to ‘With Pure Heart’ which sounds like a brand of hallmark cards or the garbage you see via Canada on Channel 5 (UK) on a weekday afternoon. Kills on Wheels is no better, while it comes closer to what is contained in Attila Till’s film it still sounds like it is part of the carsploitation cannon. Instead Kills on Wheels is something of an amalgamation of two separate entities. We have the hitman movie about Rupaszov who works for a gang leader whose favourite weapons isn’t guns but the family of dogs. There is also a powerful depiction of two teenage boys struggles with their disabilities. With films like this marketing is always going to be a struggle, hence a title that sounds like a 1970s exploitation film.

The comic book is the connective tissue with art not too dissimilar to Dustin Nguyen’s work with Jeff Lemire on the award winning Image comic, Descender, only a little scratchier. Art that makes it way into the editing, effectively turning the typically European grime into something more singular.

Containing both a hitman movie and two teenagers writing a comic for a long time there is a satisfying ambiguity of whether what is happening is real or imagined. This sort of trait needs to be committed to, I feel, apparently director Attila Till disagrees as he spends the climactic minutes deflating any potential ambiguity by explaining just what we have been watching in a killer bout of exposition. Fair enough, that is replaced with a much more dramatic plot beat but its hard to not come away feeling a little deflated.

Let’s separate each string to this bow as both contain fascinating narratives. The main billing obviously goes to Kill on Wheels being a wheelchair bound hitman movie, look no further than the misleading marketing promotion. As well as gruelingly awkward and uncomfortably prolonged scenes of physiotherapy, to make the audience sympathetic to the suffering Szabolcs Thuróczy is brilliantly depicting it has a blackly satirical heart. Thuróczy is also such an effective killer because he is in a wheelchair and not once throughout the whole film does a character acknowledge the fact that a murderer could be a “cripple”. Cinematography follows suit, for a generic film of this type the action would be kinetic, never sitting still, here, every other character moves about with the expected ferocity expected while Rupaszov sits still. Its a fascinating point of visual contrast.

Zolika and Barba’s story is heartrending and genuine and this is at its most direct in one simple scene. Teenagers chase girls, go to parties and get drunk, it’s a rite of passage of both life and on screens large and small, naturally, it’s no different for those blighted with circumstances similar to the Zolika or Barba. Rupaszov asks the boys to invite some girls and they’ll have a little party and he arrives on some of the carers who work at their home. To which Barba pipes up with a pain that could never be replicated by any able bodied actor anywhere in the world. He says, he hates those women and women like them, they look at people like [us] as tools to do their jobs, they look at us with no sexuality whatsoever as if [we] aren’t human. They are scum, I am paraphrasing, he says something far worse. Like I said, there is a pained honesty at work that makes Kills on Wheels far more relatable than any other film I have ever seen which seeks to tell the story of people with any type of disability.

As you can see there is a pretty explicit reason why I have split this review. One the one hand, there is a darkly comic crime film that could be positioned, alongside Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, on a tonal landscape which marks Attila Till out as a fascinating young talent to keep an eye on. On the other hand, Kills on Wheels displays a brutal truth that has rarely if ever been seen in the representation of disabled people that, again, shows a burgeoning talent and a readiness  to makes films that no one else will.  It’s just in the marriage of the two something comes unstuck.

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