Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: David Leith and Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Adrianne Palicki, Iam McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Omer Bernea, Keith Jardine.
A cool, stylish and ultra violent action thriller with a high body count, John Wick is another variation on the revenge seeking vigilante film, but it doesn’t merely rehash the familiar tropes of some recent similarly themed films. Written by Derek Kolstad, this adrenaline charged and and testosterone fuelled action movie is also a much better film than the recent The Equalizer and its ilk.
John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) is a ruthlessly efficient former hitman known as “the boogeyman”, and according to one of his former employers, he was the man who you hired to kill the boogeyman. But when he got married Wick gave the game away and retired to leave a quiet life. After his wife dies though he finds himself emotionally adrift, until he runs afoul of Josef (Alfie Allen, the younger brother of pop star Lily Allen), the spoiled son of Russian mobster Viggo Tarasov (Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, from the original Millennium trilogy).
Josef has his eyes set on Wick’s classic 1969 Mustang. When Wick says the car is not for sale, Josef and a couple of his thugs break into Wick’s house, beat him up and take the car. And they also kill his puppy which was a posthumous present from his wife. That’s all it takes for Wick to leap into action and begin a campaign of retribution against Josef and the Russian mob.
Knowing Wick’s abilities and what he is capable of, Tarasov is desperate to protect his son, even though Josef is probably not worthy of such loyalty, and puts a $2 million bounty on his head. The body count rises as Wick refuses to back down. And Josef is the craven, cowardly type who keeps running away from the problem he caused, preferring to send others out to die in his place.
John Wick is a ruthlessly efficient and very violent action film with a high body count. The violence is quite graphic at times and the film has a decidedly 80s or 90s vibe in its approach to the relentless level of violence. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of one of those ultra violent video games in which the aim is to gather a high score by killing as many people as possible. And lots of people are killed here, usually with a bullet to the head. The film wears the influence of Asian cinema on its sleeve. With its carnage and superbly choreographed shootouts staged with balletic like precision and fluid movements it also resembles the films of the great John Woo.Key action scenes take place in a crowded, strobe lit nightclub and on a pier in pouring rain, which adds a bleak atmosphere to the material. Cinematographer Jonathan Sela is a veteran of action films like Max Payne, A Good Day To Die Hard and The Midnight Meat Train, etc, and he finds exciting and imaginative ways to shoot these sequences.
An interesting element to the film is the luxury hotel called the Continental, which seems to be a haven for killers who can stay there in relative safety, as any sort of violence or business is strictly prohibited. The unflappable concierge (played by Lance Reddick) oversees the establishment, making sure each guest is well looked after. But Perkins (Adrianne Palicki, from tv series Friday Night Lights, etc) an assassin clad in black leather, is willing to break the unspoken protocols and rules of this elite underground body of assassins to collect the reward.
Director David Leith is a former stunt co-ordinator and co-director Chad Stahelski is a former stuntman who often doubled for Reeves in films like The Matrix, etc. The pair make their feature film directorial debut here, and their muscular direction certainly enhances the action sequences. Editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, who has collaborated with Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband, etc), pieces together the action sequences with a kinetic energy.
Reeves is nicely taciturn here as Wick who has a certain skill set that he brings to bear. Wicks’ past is shrouded in mystery, and Reeves’ solid performance is perfectly attuned to his enigmatic nature. He brings a sinewy grace, athletic quality and tough physical presence to his role as the eponymous character. Reeves’ last outing as an action hero was in the disappointing 47 Ronin, which flopped big time at the box office. However, its failure was probably not Reeves’ fault, but rather the fact that the film was badly handled with some dodgy CGI work and a story that went silly with its supernatural overtones.
There is a solid ensemble support cast. Allen, from Game Of Thrones, etc, is wonderfully craven and feckless as Josef, whose arrogance and selfishness is the cause of all the mayhem. Willem Dafoe has a small but important role as Marcus, a fellow hitman and sniper and former colleague of Wicks, and he brings such baggage of other villainous roles to the part that we are unsure of his character’s loyalties. John Leguizamo and Ian McShane are wasted in small and thankless roles, while Bridget Moynahan appears in a series of flashbacks as Wick’s wife.
Action fans will love John Wick and its relentless pace and graphic violence.