Some of the very best on-screen heroes are outcasts, ostracised from society, bullied, disenfranchised, and more often than not, they don’t even wear a cape. It’s here that Attila Till’s Kills on Wheels thrives, taking three disabled men and putting them at the heart of a gloriously engaging action thriller – all the while ensuring they remain relatable characters, enforcing the notion that no matter how our physicality may differ, psychologically we’re all the same – a sentiment enriched by how flawed the trio are, far from being heroised, making them easier to invest in and root for.
Zolika (Zoltan Fenyvesi) and Barba Papa (Adam Fekete) are fed up of feeing worthless, they’re broke, and single, and given their disability – which sees the former confined to a wheelchair, they struggle to get employed. Searching for meaning, and a purpose, they encounter the also wheelchair-bound assassin Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuroczy), an ex-fireman who entices them in to join him in working for the mafia. Needless to say, danger ensues – and while terrifying at times, and life-threatening at others, all three enjoy feeling intimating, as though they are worth something – long as they stay alive long enough to reap the rewards.
Kills on Wheels is akin to a superhero movie, even using aspects of the protagonist’s disabilities to their advantage, and none more so than the notion of misconception, for nobody assumes they would be a part of this lifestyle, whether that be the law enforcement, or rival gangs. This almost comic book approach is evidently intended given Zolika is an illustrator of graphic novels, and given we adopt his perspective, we see it all on such cinematic terms, like everything is part of this fictional adventure. Till does a fine job in blurring the line between reality and fiction too, for the film is persistently spiked with a profound sense of realism – but then, isn’t this what makes the very best superhero movies work?
In some regards, the storyboard approach lets the film off the hook when entering in to its more brutal sequences, allowing it a licence to be more violent as it barely seems real. This is a remarkable achievement in a film which otherwise feels so tightly committed to reflecting the harsh realities of the real world, and thrives in that area at the very same time. The viewer is constantly reminded of the severity of the situation of these characters, for just as we indulge in the more stylistic, overtly cinematic scenes, we cut to moments of the boys trying so hard to walk in their rehabilitation. Short, poignant moments that give us a sense for their pain, and the frustration that derives from their inability to conduct small physical tasks we take for granted every day. It adds such a vulnerability to their demeanour too, as we linger on their strain, and feel so afraid when they’re being ganged up upon, seemingly defenceless at times.
Kills on Wheels is a brilliant piece of European cinema, marking a rather impressive Autumn for Hungary with the release of Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul on the horizon. It’s testament to the talents of director Till also, in a frenetic feature that is such a hybrid of cinematic styles, blended with a deft execution. It’s darkly comedic in parts, and overtly hilarious in others, and yet never once detracts from the poignancy and the bleaker moments, as a true masterclass in balancing themes, thematic styles and tones.