Director – Chad Stahelski
Starring – Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist
I’ll be honest, I enjoyed John Wick a lot more than I thought I would. Certainly enough to come back for seconds. Keanu hasn’t exactly had a stellar career as of late so my apprehension was warranted, but then just as quickly voided as you’re about to find out.
John Wick, a quiet and wealthy former hitman loses his wife (Helen) to an unknown illness. Shortly after she passes, John receives a letter and a Beagle puppy (Daisy) in the post. This is then revealed to be Helen’s swansong, a final message and gift to John.
Daisy is gifted to John as a coping mechanism following Helen’s death, a way of providing lasting solace and company after her passing. John slowly develops a connection with Daisy and tries to adjust to life as a widower.
After a series of unfortunate events, John’s house is broken into by a group of Russian gang members and they proceed to beat John to a pulp, kill his puppy and steal his ’69 Mustang Cobra.
John was confronted earlier on in the film by the same Russian gang members at a gas station. Their leader (Iosef), who happens to be the son of a former acquaintance of John’s insisted on buying his car, Iosef was declined repeatedly until a heated exchange in Russian dialect saw John drive off with Daisy in the car.
We now see an already broken man being kicked while he’s down, a man with nothing left to lose who has had everything he loves taken away from him, again. This is where you know the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan. John comes out of retirement on a mission to exact revenge and justice, only this time it’s personal. Chad Stahelski does an excellent job of introducing us to John Wick and his past, there’s a scene with Iosef and his Father (Viggo) where he talks about his history with John and tells his son of an old Slavic myth about the Boogeyman. He describes John Wick as the man they’d send to kill the Boogeyman. This scene does a great job of describing John Wick’s character, telling the viewers how efficient and inconceivably relentless John Wick is, this also outlines how grave Iosef’s mistake was to mess with a man of John Wick’s calibre and experience.
Chad Stahelski, a former stunt double for Keanu Reeves in The Matrix trilogy and current stunt coordinator takes a seat in the directors chair for the very first time. Having formerly worked closely with the Wachowski…sisters? You instantly recognise the style of combat and gun play Chad uses in John Wick. Very similar Choreography to the Matrix Trilogy and Keanu absolutely kills his role as John Wick, he is a fairly cold and emotionless actor which is why he plays John Wick so well, it’s just his style. The only downside to his casting is that he does come off as a little too laid back. A Brilliant performance from Michael Nyqvist who plays Viggo, i haven’t seen him in many films before but he did a damn good job of building up John Wick’s character and reputation. Really good casting all round, including the bloke from the Game of Thrones who had his bits chopped off.
Each character we’re introduced to in John Wick serves an actual purpose and a role that doesn’t feel forced, they feel familiar, like they’ve all been a part of John’s history at some point in time.
In most action films which sport a hero typed protagonist, they portray them as invincible. You get the odd near miss, cuts, bruises and bullet wounds, but no real sense of losing the character. John Wick is an animal when it comes to disposing of his enemies, but he isn’t indestructible. He’s impatient and rusty and on a few occasions should have been killed were it not for Willem Dafoe’s character (Marcus). Marcus serves as a long time friend and in some respects showcases traits that John would have had in his prime. Marcus is patient, tactical and anticipates every situation carefully in his scenes.
What I love most about John Wick is it’s style and how maturely they’ve handled an action thriller. For example, there is whole culture built around being a hitman or an assassin. They have their own form of currency, mutual locations to discuss business and other matters in safety, dedicated clean up crews, the whole theme of being a stone cold killer is savage and unforgiving yet civilised. Everything seems to be done professionally and by the book. John Wick isn’t your typical action film, it has class and sophistication. It’s nice that they’ve managed to incorporate a sense of maturity and sanity into an already awesome action film.
The premise of John Wick is simple yet very effective, it flows smoothly and does exactly what it says on the tin and more. Every scene shot takes quality over quantity, the action scenes look realistic, feel intense and are very well choreographed. This goes hand in hand with the gorgeous cinematography, i’m especially talking about the death fest in Red Circle. That whole sequence was bathed in cyberpunk colours and thumping electronic music, it’s also this scene that features John Wick firing 2 gun shots in a synchronised fashion with the music, just before it drops into another savage kill fest. The sound and music style is quite diverse, not sticking with the same genre throughout is refreshing. The dialogue is smart and effective although I wish John Wick had been equipped with some better one liners. I wasn’t a fan of the fancy subtitles popping up every so often, they felt like a feeble attempt at replicating what Tony Scott’s Man on Fire had already accomplished. Some of the blood animations and kill shots looked a bit amateur, enough for me to notice at least.
Take nothing away from John Wick, it’s an incredibly satisfying ride that incorporates sophistication and class into a brilliantly choreographed action film. The story is minimalistic but fulfilling and is complimented by some great acting and dialogue. John Wick is a must see for Keanu fans and action film junkies.
We’ve also got chapter 2 to look forward to in a few months, and my god how good is it seeing Morpheus and Neo reunite after all these years. You can never have too much Laurence Fishburne, I just hope there’s a bro hug or a subtle nod to the Matrix Universe in there somewhere. There has to be!