Joe Carnahan Talks Death Wish And Wheelman


If writer-director-producer Joe Carnahan has a trademark, it’s grit. The filmmaker does ‘gritty’ on a level quite unlike anybody else currently in the business. One of his earliest efforts, from 1998, is literally called Blood, Guts, Bullets And Octane – which gives a pretty good indication of the style for which this artist shoots. In that respect, his latest comments on two current projects are both unsurprising and reassuring – as he spoke to Collider about Death Wish, and Wheelman.

The subject of Death Wish might have been a sore one, but Carnahan clearly took a diplomatic approach when addressing the project. It’s a script that he wrote as a re-working of the classic Charles Bronson film, but which saw him ultimately part ways with MGM over the direction in which the studio wanted to take the film. Joe Carnahan is not giving up on his version of the story, though, and feels that – since the MGM version has been changed so much – he can legitimately still take his script across the finish line, at some point in the future.

“It’s being shot right now, they’re off shooting a version of that script with Bruce Willis, I think in Montreal, maybe Chicago? I’m not sure. It’s, you know, if you don’t have something nice to say, you probably shouldn’t say it. I got a glimpse of that script, that was reported to be kind of a re-engineering of my script, and I would be less than hospitable if I commented on that. And whatever, I think they’re gonna get exactly what they want, and that wasn’t what I was interested in doing, and bully to them for sticking their guns, and I’m content to stick to mine, and that script will live to fight another day. That’s what I’m gonna look forward to, because it’s so radically different from what I did that I’m confident I can rework that into something just as good as it is on the page. It’s really a great script, man.”

With regard to projects that have remained in his wheelhouse, Carnahan discussed the upcoming Wheelman, on which he serves as producer. The film is the first feature length movie from writer-director Jeremy Rush, and stars Frank Grillo and Garret Dillahunt in a story about a getaway driver who comes to realize that the bank robbers he is driving for have double-crossed him, and he must figure out a vengeful resolution.

“[People can expect] an absolutely extraordinary performance by Frank Grillo. A McQueen-esque throwback kinda performance by Grillo, where he cements himself as The Man. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. He belongs to a generation of guys like Lee Marvin and McQueen, Coburn and Mitchum, Eastwood, those antihero kinds. But it has such a degree of subtlety with his ability to shift his emotional terrain what with his ex-wife and his daughter. I’m telling you, Pat McKinley, the who’s cutting for us, he was his editor on Kingdom, said to him, ‘I’ve been cutting you for years, I’ve never seen you do anything like this.’ And that’s the highest praise is coming from your editor, who’s used to looking at your mug day in and day out. It was a hell of an experience. This is my guy, and watching him work was a real pleasure, a real joy.

“It’s definitely an R-rated film. I don’t know if it’s a hard R, but it’s definitely an R, there’s a lot of language alone. It’s got great, tremendous action, and tremendous driving stuff… We got Jeremy Fry who’s our driver, and Eddie Fernandez, our stunt coordinator, boy, they put some sequences together that were just magnificent. And there’s a scene with Garret Dillahunt and Frank that’s one of the most oddly shockingly violent and sad scenes I’ve ever witnessed or shot. Jeremy Rush, the director, just did a hell of a job. So yeah, it’s definitely an R, dunno about hard, but definitely an R.”

Wheelman will be distributed by Netflix, and Joe Carnahan makes a point of heaping praise upon those developing original content at the streaming platform, for the way in which creators are given the necessary space to work in whatever way they feel befits their vision.

“They were phenomenal. Netflix is uh. I’d make everyone work for those guys. They were wonderful. Encouraging, helpful, supportive. We said at one point, guys we wanna do letterbox, but we know you don’t do letterbox, and they were like ‘No problem, you feel that strongly about it, we’ll do it.’ So that film’s gonna be letterboxed. They were extraordinary. I can’t say an unkind thing about Netflix. And listen: they changed the way we do distribution, they changed every platform out there. Bully to them for being the outlier and really mixing up—again, seismically they’re shaking things up. They were great.

“We got no notes. Zero. They let us work. They were really thrilled with the stuff they were seeing, understood we had to change stuff on the fly, nobody freaked out. Nothing. Completely nothing. They just said, ‘Here are our thoughts on the script, take the ones you agree with and ignore the ones you disagree with and best of luck. Can’t wait to see it.’ That was it. They were fantastic.”

These positive sentiments from Joe Carnahan echo those of many other creators of Netflix original content – something that bodes very well for the platform going forward, and reassures audiences that they are gaining access to films and television in exactly the way that they were intended to be seen. This might be in stark contrast to Carnahan’s experience with Death Wish, but it makes the prospect of Wheelman all the more intriguing.