Hungarian friends Zoli (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba (Ádám Fekete) spend their days collaborating on a comic book at the disability centre where they live. But when they meet the dangerous yet intriguing Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), all three of their lives take an unexpected turn.
Inspired by his time volunteering at a disability centre, director Attila Till’s comic crime thriller may be a film about people with disabilities, but refreshingly never makes those disabilities the only facet of his characters. And though the film’s sluggish pacing and middling-tone ensure that it never quite takes off, Kills on Wheels succeeds at being an entertaining black comedy. More importantly, however, it is a breath of fresh air in terms of representing people and actors who are rarely portrayed as complex, let alone flawed or dangerous.
All three leads give affecting turns here, with both Zoli and Rupaszov battling with internal conflicts. Fenyvesi’s Zoli is in need of a life-changing operation but reluctant to accept the money to pay for it from his absentee father. Although Barba lacks the same depth of characerisation, Fekete’s charming performance brings him to life, slathering himself in cheap deodorant and ferrying his friends’ around in his beat-up van.
But it’s arguably Thuróczy as the emotionally damaged gangster Rupaszov who really steals the show. In between bouts of grimy assassinations for his mob boss, Rupaszov still carries a torch for his ex-partner, who is getting married in a few weeks. Claiming that he is an ex-firefigher paralysed after an accident, Rupaszov is a writhing mass of bitterness – failing to accept his disability and filled with self-loathing, untended, lank hair framing a face full of pain. As a gangster figure he’s atypical yet as a broken man would not be out of place in a Shane Meadows film.
Where the film falters is after it has set up its triumvirate and in search of a compelling story. Rupaszov’s boss, Rados (Dusán Vitanovics) is sufficiently menacing but has been plucked straight from the Gangster Character handbook, and though a final-reel shoot out in a basement apartment is exciting, Till’s odd choice of pop music during exciting and emotional moments eventually begins to grate. Moreover, while the line between fantasy and reality occasionally blur, a climactic, fourth-wall breaking reveal is troublesome. It lends meaning to one character arc but in so doing robs it from another, and ultimately feels superfluous.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell