John Wick is not out to win Academy Awards. It has no aspirations to make you feel better about your life or reflect on the world around you. It exists solely as an excuse to watch people get shot in about as many ways as a person can be shot. This may not be your kind of movie, and if a double digit body count in a 94 minute film doesn’t make you jump on the bandwagon, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re an action junkie who adores the films of John Woo, Walter Hill, or to a lesser extent Kurt Wimmer, then John Wick is an absolute must see because it’s quite simply freaking awesome!
There are very few action stars who are more enjoyable to watch than Keanu Reeves. He performs his own stunts, takes part in fight choreography, and his stoic expressions work perfectly within the genre’s requirements. No one can say Reeves wasn’t a blast to watch in Speed or The Matrix. He’s perfectly cast in John Wick, saying probably a maximum of twenty lines in the whole movie, and damn does he look bad ass.
Reeves plays John Wick, a retired assassin who left it all behind for his wife (Bridget Moynahan). In a tragic turn of events, his wife dies from a terminal illness. Still grieving, Wick receives a last gift from her in the form of an incredibly cute puppy named Daisy. He grows instantly attached to Daisy but soon after, he’s beaten to a pulp by Iosef (Alfie Allen), the son of Russian mob kingpin Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) who also steals Wick’s car and murders Daisy in cold blood. Once recovered, Wick doesn’t just vow to get revenge on Iosef. He takes the fight to the entire mob who knows that he is capable of killing every last one of them. As Viggo tells Iosef, John Wick isn’t the boogeyman. He’s the one you send to kill the boogeyman.
When the violence starts, audiences will not be disappointed. Director Chad Stahelski and his assistant, David Leitch, are both veteran stunt men, and boy do they know how to stage action sequences. Almost every angle is a master shot that showcases incredible action choreography. There haven’t been gun battles this intense since Hard Boiled was made 22 years ago. The hand to hand fight scenes quickly turn into wrestling matches that feel raw and ferocious. The Raid 2 mastered how to film martial arts choreography, but John Wick has mastered how to film takedowns, bones breaking, and necks snapping. It’s great to actually see the actors’ faces to let the audience know that yes, these are in fact the performers doing the work and not their body doubles.
And oddly enough, there are long periods in the movie that focus on the story. The plot may be basic but the film takes time to establish its own world. The scenes with John Wick grieving for his wife and dog are actually emotional, edited together with utmost seriousness and sensitivity. To try and stop Wick from getting to his son, Viggo puts a bounty on Wick, which attracts deadly assassins played by Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki. The film establishes a kind of mob currency, gold coins that can be traded for favours. It also establishes a neutral meeting crowd for the city’s gangsters with the Continental Hotel. Here, no business is allowed to be carried out, as stipulated by its owner Winston, played by the great Ian McShane, and the concierge, played by Lance Reddick. This unique scenario allows for some great dramatic moments and the ability for McShane and Reddick to showcase their chops. For a film that is mainly focusing on using human beings as sacks of meat to be tenderized, there sure are a lot of credible performances.
John Wick fires on all cylinders. It’s got great action, great drama, and great acting. There’s even some welcome dark humour – for example, when Viggo asks a car mechanic (John Leguizamo) why he punched out Iosef, the mechanic says, “Because he stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog” to which Viggo simply replies, “Oh” and hangs up the phone.
I sincerely ask that you please, please, please go see this movie, especially if you’re a fan of the action genre. There is great potential for John Wick to be a cult classic and possibly a franchise. It knows what fans of this genre want and delivers it with skill and style. Everyone involved with this film should be proud of their accomplishments and we as audiences need to applaud them by giving them the chance to do it again. This is a fantastic film!
DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski / WRITER: Derek Kolstad / STARRING: Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters / YEAR: 2014 / GENRE: Action / COUNTRY: USA / RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes