John Wick (2014)

Don’t Set Him Off!

After viewing the overly sleek, action-packed trailer for Keanu Reeves’ new revenge flick, John Wick, the question on the tip of moviegoer’s tongues is slowly becoming, ‘Who is John Wick?’ Having been several years since Reeves left a lasting impression on the sliver screen — I’ve almost already forgotten about his last picture, 47 Ronin (2013) — the martial arts specialist — learning and perfecting over 200 martial arts moves for The Matrix Reloaded (2003) — returns to the genre most suited for his knack and aptitude. ‘People keep asking if I’m back; Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!’ exclaims the unforgiving ex-hitman John Wick, reluctantly pulled out of retirement to track down the gangsters who took everything away from him, repositioning Reeves as the staple, tough-as-nails persona — which launched his career in The Matrix (1999) — reviving some of the actor’s long forgotten big-screen appeal.

Who needs bullet-time?
Who needs bullet-time?

Following the painful funeral of his wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), who lost her life to cancer, John Wick unexpectedly receives a delivery package at his door; a parting gift from his beloved in order to help ease his sorrowful grief — a playful, puppy-dog, by the name of Daisy. After unintentionally maddening a group of Russian mobsters at a gas station, when their leader, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), insists on buying Wick’s vintage ‘69 Mustang, they give him an unpleasant home visit, where Wick witnesses the murder of his dog and suffers a brutal beating; though, little do these gangsters know who they’ve just messed with. When Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) — head of the Russian crime syndicate in New York, and Wick’s former employer — finds out what his egotistical son, Iosef, has done, he beats some sense into the boy, explaining that he had, in fact, angered the infamous John Wick, whose moniker is Babayega, which stands for Boogeyman — though Wick is also refereed to as the guy one sends to eliminate the Boogeyman — a relentless assassin who, before retiring to care for his dying wife, helped Viggo gain control of his syndicate by single-handedly eradicating the competition. Now, John Wick — with his deadly skills tested and his true background remaining mysterious — readies his weapons, as pure ruthless revenge ensues from there on out, with the merciless Wick embarking on a killing vendetta, determined to show the Russian mob who, or what, he truly is!

John Wick, as a down-the-line straightforward action flick, accomplishes just what American action cinema fails to achieve on most accounts, as its narrative stays minimalistic — though almost too minimalistic — and focused, as the film incessantly gives audiences just what they’ve come to see; action — and plenty of it. Containing a plethora of absorbing wide shots, which perfectly display everything that’s transpiring on screen, without ever confusing the audience with quick cuts or chaotic shaky-cam, the fiercely intense action sequences are shot and envisaged with the use of astonishing cinematography, devised by Jonathan Sela, Law Abiding Citizen (2009), who was named one of Variety’s ‘10 Cinematographers to Watch’ back in 2009. The camera invariably gives viewers a sound layout of each particular environment/ location, which is followed by John Wick’s clever utilization of these surroundings as he breaks bones and ruptures skulls; in fact, the film is so embellished with glitzy style that even its subtitles are vibrantly colored, with catchy fonts and crafty screen placement.

Vodka for breakfast? Is not problem!
Vodka for breakfast? Is not problem!

The majority of the picture takes place during the nighttime thus the feat is presented with a metropolitan vibe, alongside a dusky color palette — an alluring greenish-bluish hue. In addition, a groovy, cool soundtrack ceaselessly complements the impressive action sequences, with one of the standout segments taking place in a crimson-lit, intensely staged nightclub, as guns blaze, blood sprays and dubstep drowns out the bellow of screams. Despite Keanu Reeves’ transparently limited acting range, this harsh and dangerous role certainly plays well to his strengths, utilizing Reeves’ intimidating monotone one-line delivery and his never-ending, rigid look of sheer rage. Supporting cast members such as Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man (2002), portraying sniper-wheedling contract killer, Marcus, and Adrianne Palicki, G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013), as the ruthless coldblooded assassin, Ms. Perkins, add a nice touch to proceedings; however, while both characters are indeed intriguing, they are slightly underused, as are all the film’s other second-tier players, with limited framework or context given to these individuals.

When it comes to narrative, there is no compelling storyline to give the film’s duration any necessity to continue, with the motivation behind John Wick’s rampage feeling somewhat sketchy, as Wick goes on a killing upheaval over a dead dog — yes, it’s sad that his dog is killed, but is it honestly worth the countless others slaughtered in retaliation during his feud of vengeance, even if these people are, to some degree, supposedly all mobsters or crooks? John Wick simply comprises of one action scene after another, and the combat, while tasteful and kinetic, may get tiresome for some rather quickly — with repeated wrestling techniques, kickboxing, martial arts, and bloody gunfire throughout. The paper-thin story essentially follows a basic formula, fluently shifting from one dexterous action set piece to the next, in the hope that viewers will find the intensity of these scenes adequate enough for non-stop entertainment; though, the screenplay, composed by first time screenwriter Derek Kolstad, is witty and sharp. Debut directing duo Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, whose previous work has predominantly involved stunts and stunt coordination, do a credible job with their first feature, presenting this simple premise in an aesthetically pleasing, high-octane fashion, keeping the film’s pace energetic, while the dynamically polished visuals come off looking like something out of an edgy noir-type Dark Horse graphic novel.

... Woah ... Dude!
… Woah … Dude!

It may be difficult to understand John Wick’s motives or psychologically connect with the character — who justifies mass murder as retribution over the death of a dog — and the storyline may be too skeletal for some, lacking any real in-depth character development, but for the general action enthusiast, this new Keanu Reeves flick — while partially revitalizing the Hawaiian born actor’s career — is perfect escapism, offering a stylish, illuminated world of badass thugs, bullets and blood-spattered revenge, rarely seen outside of Asian cinema. John Wick exemplifies what an action picture should encompass, loads and loads of action; if only the story were a little deeper, more relatable or more absorbing, this could have easily been a much more satisfying feat. So, after all is said and done, do we honestly learn anything about the titular anti-hero, John Wick? No, not really, what we do discover though, is the knowledge that one should never mess with a man’s car, or his dog!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

John Wick is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia