By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
David (Mike Adler), Tino (Florian Renner), Elyas (Elyas M’Barek) and Achim (Jacob Matschenz) are the preeminent crew of graffiti “writers” in their area. Their lives revolve around gracing city walls and commuter trains with their glorious artwork. Cops, rivals, and the responsibilities of adulthood prove to be formidable obstacles to such pursuits. As the threat represented by the aforementioned elements becomes more apparent, the foursome become ever more determined to live their dream.
Florian Gaag’s Wholetrain follows in the same tradition as seminal Hip-Hop films such as Wild Style and Beat Street. While those served as an overall showcase for the culture at a time when the mainstream still had a limited awareness of it, Wholetrain doesn’t care to educate its viewers or turn them on to something new. It is content to be a coming of age drama that uses the world of “bombing” and graffiti art as a backdrop for its story.
Wholetrain is shot in a guerilla style that does not forsake professionalism or basic filmmaking. The scenes where the main characters invade train yards at night have a voyeuristic documentary quality as the foursome look to complete their stealth missions and avoid detection by the authorities. These scenes feel authentic and generate palpable tension. The gritty feel of the film comes about organically as opposed to strategically. It doesn’t feel calculated.
The screenplay provides the principals with dilemmas that don’t feel forced or melodramatic. The lack of a musical score during the dramatic moments allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions without subtle psychological manipulation. The only noticeable musical accompaniment comes by way of the songs on the soundtrack, which is only used at the appropriate moments.
Mike Adler brings world weary credibility to the character of David. He looks after his crew with the ferocity of a guard dog, but he is also cautious and surprisingly tender. Florian Renner brings a hippie sensibility to his portrayal of Tino, who has little if any sense of responsibility to anything other than his art.
At times, the ambitions of Wholetrain are a bit too meager. It boasts a credible cast and solid filmmaking, yet it ends up feeling a bit less than the sum of its parts. Some more insight into the mentality that drives this outlaw subculture would have been more than welcome. We never really understand why these kids have decided to dedicate themselves so completely to this lifestyle.
Wholetrain gives some much needed light to a somewhat neglected element of Hip-Hop culture, one that provides ample opportunities for drama and excitement. While it may not be a monumental achievement, Wholetrain is perhaps the most competent and credible graffiti film ever made. It hints at the cinematic potential of this subculture while being a satisfying enough offering in its own right. It is a throwback to any earlier and much fabled era that still exerts considerable influence and continues in a diminished capacity. 3.5 out of 5
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