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Friday, October 24, 2014

‘John Wick’ Is The Bomb! (Movie Review)

John Wick:  4 out of 5

Viggo:  He’s the guy you send to kill the Boogeyman.

This is just great.  In a time where we get a lot of action movies designed to build into some sort of franchise, here comes John Wick, a film most likely designed to be a one-off attempt at showing an older Keanu Reeves kick ass in some very brutal ways.  The film is bound to become an American cult action favorite, but the unexpected, yet the best thing that could happen is to see this film become a breakout success and lead to at least a reteaming of Reeves, writer Derek Kolstad, and directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.  While John Wick is straight to the point with its story, there is enough in the way of character and world building (not to mention terrific action) that would make me happy to see these guys continue to make slick action flicks such as this.


Reeves stars as the titular character, John Wick, the hitman that went into retirement, in order to settle down with his wife (Bridget Moynahan giving just enough in her fleeting minutes of screentime).  Tragedy strikes twice for John, as his wife not only dies, but the one thing he had to help him grieve has also been taken away from him in a stubborn act of violence.  In a cruel twist of fate, this act of violence was committed against John by people tied to the life he used to live.  Now John has come out of retirement to take away the lives of those who wronged him and anyone who gets in his way.

If one is assuming this film is nothing more than a simple revenge story, they are in for a treat, as John Wick may be simple enough at a glance, but the film creates a stylized world for these various hitmen characters to inhabit and loads it with a ton of character actors to make it all the more interesting.  Make no mistake, this is an action film and it is not overlong or overstuffed with story, but there is weight to it, because of the attempts to make everything count, even if video game logic is what propels the action forward.  Really, in a world where one video game movie after another continues to fail, John Wick is another counter example that seems to have the fluidity in its action that feels fitting of a video game, but is able to match it with solid filmmaking, writing, and acting that puts it well above the filmed adaptations of said games.


Where many action movies get too caught up in over-editing these days, John Wick does feature some fine action choreography and cinematography.  It may not be up to the grimy, violent chaos that is The Raid or the operatic violent beauty that is The Raid 2, but it certainly matches and even one-ups many of the various Luc Besson-produced action films of recent years (e.g., The Transporter and Taken films).  It also does not try to restrain itself.  Following the first act setup, the second act is almost entirely filled with action and it is quite brutal, as John Wick goes for head shots nearly every time.  He is here to put down his foes and not overdramatize anything, which keeps this film moving.  The film gets away with this brutality, because it has captured the exact tone needed for a film like this (it has a good share of laughs and applause-worthy ‘that’s gotta hurt’ moments) and it features some fine work from the performers involved.

Keanu Reeves absolutely delivers in this film.  As an actor who has continued to grow overtime, but has already proven himself time and time again as a performer who is good in the right kind of role, despite the weird amount of animosity thrown his way, John Wick finds Reeves providing a performance that starts out with him once again underplaying his character, before bursting out of his shell, as he is driven to near madness, given the circumstances.  A film like this basically requires a lead that is stoic, determined, and confident, but still vulnerable.  Reeves has that in spades, which is put to good use amid the chaos that he involves himself in over the course of this film.


Then you have the host of other actors here.  I won’t reveal them all (some are somewhat obscure), but Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, and Michael Nyqvist all provide what is needed for this film that oozes and appropriate level of style.  John Wick may not come from a comic book or a video game, but the depiction of New York and the types of places these assassins all inhabit suggest that a lot of effort was put into developing the backstory for the world John Wick came from.  Hotels and nightclubs that serve a very specific purpose, the use of certain lighting styles, even the currency exchanged between professionals all signify the thought put into the little details, which do a great job of developing a world for these characters to live in, as opposed to just a place for people to get shot up in.  Again, this story may be simple, but this film is smart enough to give it visual depth.

I had a blast watching this film and I will likely have a blast watching it again too.  John Wick may be another entry in the ‘older actor plays rough in an action film’ sub-genre, but it is a damn good one, with lots of style, a great cast, and very little time wasted.  It is a lot of fun, darkly humorous, and full of very solid action.  The film is pretty small scale as well, which is almost refreshing, given that we have little risk of this being ‘just the beginning’ as opposed to a simple closed-off story.  John Wick may not be a guy you want to set off, but seeing it happen led to some fine entertainment.


John Wick: People keep asking if I’m back…yeah I’m thinkin’ I’m back!


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