Director: Chad Stahelski (2015)
An assassin goes on an entertaining one-man rampage of revenge in this bloody, brutal and bullet-ridden action thriller.
Filled with blistering action, fast cars and a cute puppy, it’s a slick return to form for Keanu Reeves.
Grieving the death of his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) disses a Russian gangster Iosef (Alfie Allen).
Not a bloke to be dissed by a fifty year-old in stubble, classic sports car and brown leather jacket, Iosef beats Wick up, trashes his apartment, kills his dog and steals his motor.
On any other fifty year old, Wick’s fashion choices could be the sign of a mid-life crisis and but this is Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, Johnny Utah and Neo – so he can dress how he likes and he’ll always be forgiven.
In flashback we see poor Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s late wife Helen. Despite being seven years younger than her screen husband, Reeves makes her look like a toyboy-chasing cougar. The illness that killed her could have been old-age.
Unfortunately for Iosef, Wick is a retired hitman who used to work for his dad, a beard-stroking villain called Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).
Wick has a killer rep, he once killed three men in a bar with a pencil and is famed for his focus, commitment and sheer will. Nyqvist delivers the word pencil with articulate relish.
To protect his spoiled son Viggo reluctantly puts a $2million dollar bounty on Wicks’ head. Meanwhile Wick is breaking out his arsenal of weapons and is in a bad mood. The muted blues and greys of his house are a stylish representation of his emotional state.
The film plays to Reeve’s strengths by giving him lots of screen-time, great suits to wear, fast cars to drive – and minimal dialogue. Plus he’s at the centre of plenty of crisply choreographed carnage set to a grinding rock soundtrack.
What’s best about John Wick is the script’s nicely created heightened sense of reality, it exists in a parallel universe of coded conversations, rigid rules of engagement, financial penalties and it’s own currency of gold coins the size of doubloons. We only ever see one cop and he apologises for doing his job.
Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe appear as as fellow hitmen Ms. Perkins and Marcus. Her Mrs Peel leather and eyeliner combo adds to the timeless quality of this alternate reality.
Ian McShane saunters through as Winston, a sleazily ambiguous owner of the Hotel Continental where a lot of the action takes place, John Leguizamo has a small role as Aurelio, a mobbed-up garage owner.
The moments of humour are underplayed for the greatest effect. Reeves delivers laconic asides with confidence and there’s a variation on the classic ‘pause in the fight and listen to elevator music’ gag.
Editor Elísabet Ronaldsdottir cuts the action with as many long edits as possible, giving them tremendous dynamism. Reeves may well have used a stuntman but you’d be hard pushed to say where during the hand to hand fighting.
Cinematographer Jonathan Sela captures the ultra-violence in deep wells of light and adds increasing levels of colour as the story progresses – but sadly there’s a lack of poetry in the glossy aesthetic and too little re-invention of action tropes.
We don’t need the traditional sweeping helicopter shots of the city and we’ve seen too many times the rain-soaked night-time fight on the docks. Plus this showdown would be stronger if we considered the two men to be equals – as in Michael Mann’s Heat – rather than a super-assassin putting the hurt on his elderly former boss.
However it’s great to see the likeable Reeves in a well-executed action thriller – he even gets to walk towards the camera with the room on fire behind him in classic action hero style.