2014, R, 101 mins.
2014, R, 101 mins.
Keanu Reeves as John Wick / Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tarasov / Alfie Allen as Iosef Tarasov / Willem Dafoe as Marcus / Dean Winters as Avi / Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins / Bridget Moynahan as Helen / John Leguizamo as Aureilo / Ian McShane as Winston / Lance Reddick as Charon
Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski / Written by Derek Kolstad
I have all but given up on modern Hollywood action films in terms of their ability to infuse some much needed vitality and novelty back into the genre.
comes the rough, rugged, frequently brutal, deliriously stylish, and
intensely entertaining JOHN WICK to wake up the genre – and audience
members, for that matter – out of apathy.
So many action films these days feel like bloated, paint-by-numbers
affairs that often forget to be lean, mean, and innovative.
JOHN WICK kind of flips the bird at so many of the genre’s more
annoying, been-there, done-that proclivities in crafting a revenge caper
that fully embraces its luridness while simultaneously envisioning some of
the most fiendishly inventive and unrelentingly thrilling stunt set pieces
that I’ve seen in many a moon. That,
and it successfully returns Keanu Reeves – at the ripe old age of
50 (FIFTY!) – back to his THE MATRIX/SPEED-era levels of kick-ass
overall plot for JOHN WICK is, to be kind of fair, ludicrous nonsense that
could be easily summarized in a 140-character tweet with words to spare.
However, it essentially exists as a closeline, of sorts, for the
film’s audaciously original action sequences.
The film runs at just over 90 minutes, which is a pitch perfectly
correct running time considering the material, and JOHN WICK never wastes
time on slavish exposition and values slick and swift plotting in ways few
other films – action or not – don’t.
Here’s what you need to know:
Keanu Reeves plays a retired hitman that loses his wife to cancer...and then Russian gangsters steal his 1969 Mustang and kill his new puppy...and he gets very pissed off.
vengeance is plotted. “The
that’s longer than what a tweet would allow.
There’s a bit more to the plot than that, and the film is clever
with relaying a considerable amount about its title character with
judicious use of flashbacks and very little dialogue early on.
John Wick (Reeves) was a former assassin for the Russian mob that
has decided to lay low, stay quiet, retire, and live the good life with
his wife…until she dies far too young in life.
Her final deathbed wish to her husband, though, was to look after
her gift to him…a puppy. Trying
to grieve as only he can, John takes the dog in and cares for it…but
just as he’s acclimatizing himself to his new roommate he’s given a
very nasty wake-up call when the son of a Russian mafia kingpin, Iosef (Alfie
Allen) decides to steal John’s prized Mustang and, in the process, beats
John nearly to death with some of his hired goons.
The poor puppy, alas, never makes it out alive, a plot development
that immediately mocks one of the oldest clichés of the movies: you
can never kill a cute pooch in a movie.
Iosef is an ignoramus. He has
no idea who John is or what his past entailed…that is until his deeply
frustrated father Viggo (a truly fine Michael Nyqvist, from the original THE
GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) discovers his son’s hellish act
and matter-of-factly educates him on John’s past as a lethal killer.
Realizing that his kid is indeed an inept moron, Viggo goes
immediately on the defensive – seeing as he knows that John will seek
revenge ASAP – and puts out an expensive contract on his head, which
does have a few takers in Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) and Marcus (Willem
Dafoe), the latter whom has a personal history with John.
Despite all of the dangerous obstacles placed in John’s path, he
resolutely stays focused and determined to track and find Iosef, which means
eradicating countless members of Viggo’s squad in the process.
WICK was technically directed by two men, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
(granted, because of DGA rules, only Stahelski was granted soul credit).
Both have extensive backgrounds as movie stunt performers, having
worked with Reeves before on THE MATRIX TRILOGY (as well as a host of
other action films), but what becomes immediately – and refreshingly –
apparent right from the get-go is that these fist-time directors have
absolutely none of the dreadful and inexcusable habits that so many action
filmmakers (novice and veteran) have.
Working on a multitude of past action films, it’s easy to see how Leitch
and Stahelski have witnessed the over reliance on CGI effects married to
hyperactive and headache-inducing editing and shaky cam excesses to help
“sell” the mayhem. In
JOHN WICK the pair understands how intricately rendered choreography is
best served with a clean, precise, and easy-on-the-eyes visual sheen.
With the sumptuous cinematography by Jonathan Sela, the directors
here let the action sell itself instead of relying on hooky and overused
aesthetic flourishes. They
keep the camera...for the most part…still. Considering
the breakneck and breathtaking momentum of the carnage on screen, it's
ultimately great to be able to actually make out what’s happening on
I say that Keanu Reeves is 50? Let
that simmer for a bit while watching this film. The
star has always radiated an agelessly handsome façade that always makes
him appear astonishingly younger, not to mention that he has that ethereal
level of boyish, no-nonsense charm that has helped him overcome his less
than stellar range as an actor during his career.
Not since THE MATRIX has Reeves been so meticulous well cast as he
is here: Sporting a scruffy beard, a perpetual poker face, a steely eyed
stare, and a stoic stillness and calm (that is, of course, before he
unleashes hell), John Wick emerges as one of the most cold, calculating,
and ferociously empowered killing machines that I’ve ever seen in a
film. Derek Kolstad’s
script thankfully doesn’t give John much dialogue, which perfectly pays
homage to classic anti-hero archetypes like Mad Max and the Man With No
Name as well as playing up to Reeve’s inherent strengths as an actor in
terms of raw screen presence; he has simply not been this engaging and
potent in a film role in long time.
all of the ingeniously staged action sequences (the film displays macabre
ingenuity in finding new and varied ways for John to kill his multiple
adversaries with guns), JOHN WICK has moments of giddy hilarity as well,
especially in one early moment featuring a cameo by John Leguizamo
uttering a one-word deadpan response to Iosef - when the latter reveals
what he has done to John - that delivers a well earned laugh. There’s also ample dark comedy to be had from Lance Reddick,
who plays an inordinately polite and upstanding hotel manager of an
establishment that provides a safe zone, of sorts, for men like John and
his kind who need, shall we say, special treatment that no other hotel
offers. Also, many scenes of
Nyqvist’s mob boss reacting to the startling ineptitude of his
grotesquely naïve son offers many laughs as well.
will, no doubt, question my 4-star rating of JOHN WICK.
Hell, I question it myself. All
that matters is my response to the film, and as far as genre efforts go,
JOHN WICK doesn't radically reinvent the wheel for action films as it does
inject extensive new creative life into it.
It’s an uber stylish revenge thriller that never draws too much
obtrusive attention to its style. It
delivers bone crushing, artery spewing, and pulse-pounding action relayed
with impeccable visual cleanliness that allows these sequences to feel
like immaculately timed and choreographed ballets of wanton savagery.
And, yes, at the heart of it all is Keanu Reeves at the
absolute zenith of his cool Keanu-ness, laying down acrobatic and
animalistic beatdowns like a man of half of his advancing years.
In the last little while I’ve not seen many action films made
with a lethal combination of gnarly creativity and gut-punching potency.
WICK is just such a glorious beast of a film.
Boy, is it ever.