John Wick (****)
Running time: 101 minutes
Director: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Willem Dafoe
(Movie House Dublin Road preview screening 01/04/2015
FOR Liam, it was his daughter. For Denzel, it was Dakota Fanning. So in case you were wondering what it takes to push Keanu Reeves over the edge then look no further than John Wick – a brutal, over-the-top, and hugely fun action flick that well and truly earns it’s “No Animals Were Harmed During the Making of this Picture” disclaimer.
Reeves plays John Wick, a grieving widower in mourning whose dark past comes back to haunt him just days after his late wife is laid to rest. After running afoul a group of Russian mobsters, he winds up getting a solid beating, his car stolen and his puppy – a parting gift from his spouse – murdered. Hell-bent on revenge, Wick returns to a world of organised crime he thought he’d put behind him in search of those responsible.
Dead centre of Wick’s crosshairs is Yosef (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones), the spoilt brat heir to a Russian crime syndicate whose both too cocky and too stupid to realise what hell he has unleashed upon his family. His father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) does his best to talk Wick down before realising that there’s no other option but to throw everything he has at the determined, unrelenting hitman.
As the “bogeyman you send to kill the bogeyman,” Reeves plays a strong, silent hitman lured out of retirement against his will, instinctively relying on the principle that actions speak louder than words. It’s probably a good thing because dialogue isn’t the film’s strongest suit, instead making its point through bone-crunching, blood-splattering beat-downs, guaranteed to satisfy the itch of anyone looking for a solid action thriller. Barely a scene goes by where Reeves isn’t pulling off impressively choreographed stunts one after the other, dusting off his martial arts skill set or just simply going into a situation with his finger already firmly on the trigger.
This comes as no surprise, given that the film is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two veteran stuntmen who previously worked with Reeves on The Matrix trilogy. The pair’s inspiration evidently comes from a kaleidoscope of genres, including exploitation thrillers, spaghetti westerns, and martial arts cinema. What is surprising is that for a directorial debut, John Wick is not only fresh and entertaining, but also incredibly vibrant and hugely detailed.
While most revenge films these days tend to lean towards realism, John Wick heads towards the other direction, by putting pedal to the metal in a flashy sports car and embarking on a whistle-stop tour through a comic book version of New York City’s seedy underbelly. An entire mythology is constructed around the legend of John Wick, revealing a delicate infrastructure of criminal enterprise that’s surprisingly fun, totally ridiculous and just begging for further exploration.
Gold coins are used as currency, nuances and metaphors are used to call in favours, and the only neutral ground is a secret hotel where a colourful cast of eccentric mobsters and assassins can unwind in between jobs without fear of being taken out. A code of conduct even exists in this world and anyone who’s anyone knows that by wronging Wick, you’ve trampled on what little honour these criminals uphold and have basically dug your own grave.
Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, and Joe Leguizamo appear throughout in minor roles as morally ambiguous allies from Wick’s past, all living up to genre stereotypes in a way that pokes fun at the classic revenge story. It’s just a shame we don’t spend more time with them. McShane’s scenery-chewing hotel owner spits out more hammy dialogue in just one scene than the rest of the film combined, but you can’t help but relish in it. It’s comical how often the film nods to the likes of Get Carter, Death Wish, Man on Fire, and even Taken, letting some air and fun back into a class of film that these days generally get too bogged down in the nitty gritty.
John Wick is a B-list movie holding a gun to your head and telling you it’s an A-lister. Riddled with just as many plot holes as it has bullet holes, it’s by no means an intelligent blockbuster or cult classic in the making. However, thanks to an intriguing set-up, a rich universe and some stunt work that will have you wincing throughout, it’s a self-indulgent, entertaining thrill ride that quite proudly delivers each roundhouse kick with a cheeky wink and a sly grin of its face.