John Wick

UK Release Date 10th April 2015
Director Stahelski & Leitch
Starring KEANU
Runtime 102 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Jo & Si
Reviewed 12th April 2015

Ah Keanu. Shaper of many teenage dreams as Jonny Utah in Point Break, Scott in My Own Private Idaho and even as Tod in Parenthood (“…you need a licence to own a dog.”) The later Matrix trilogy and subsequent action hits left some a little cold except for Constantine, which Jo loved (yes you heard that right) but it had been a while since Mr Reeves had made us excited to be in the cinema. Well ladies and gentlemen that all changed the day we clocked the trailer for John Wick, and we’re delighted it did.

The ‘plot’ revolves around the wafer thin premise that Wick’s dying wife left him a dog (don’t worry if you forget this plot point, it’s repeated roughly every ten minutes in the film). That dog and his car are taken from him by Iosef, son of Viggo, the Russian gangster by whom he was once employed, and with that, retired mega hit man John Wick, who once killed three men in a bar WITH A PENCIL is Back.  

Unapologetic in its single mindedness, John Wick is bloody, violent and loud. It is kinetic unrelenting action set to a banging house and techno soundtrack. The boundless action scenes are masterly choreographed by joint directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. And choreographed is no exaggeration - the fight scenes are like an elegant, savage dance, the avenging shade that is Wick swooping almost balletically through wave after wave of goons, manipulating their prone bodies as he times his carefully rationed gunshots to perfection. Even if you don’t like violence it’s hard not to get carried away with it all. The sheer majesty of the sweeping arcs made by Reeves’ body as he cuts down another heavily armed thug and sets the next one up for cover as he pops the next one makes you sit back and just admire the frenetic horror unfolding.

The tone and look of the film is nicely handled by Leitch and Stalhski, dark and moody with some nice sweeping shots, it’s a stylish revenge flick and it’s nice to see in a film of this genre which can sometimes be standard and boring. Even the subtitles are deliberately disconcerting and cartoonish and the directors know only too well what they are making - witness the wonderful cuts between a character playing a first-person shooter and Keanu acting one out. And for once, the camera resists the urge to impose itself on the action. Without the tetchy, disorientating camera shifts that have started to become an action movie staple (check out Fast & Furious 7 if you’re unsure what we mean), our eyes spend their time following the viciously graceful action, rather than being constantly jolted out of it. 

The script by Derek Kolstadt is preposterous enough to be a B Movie but it manages to remain entertaining and funny enough to keep the audience on side even with some of the most ridiculous lines we’ve heard in a while. For every ridiculous line there is a brilliantly quotable classic, in many instances becoming one and the same thing. With a blinding disregard for language (pretty sure that ‘unalone’ is absolutely not a word - or maybe in Kolstadt’s world an unword) and some grammar that is actually laugh out loud brilliant (“He killed that from me!”), these lines could be spoken by few actors with the kind of flat-toned viciousness that Reeves imbues.

As for the universe that Wick inhabits, well, it sits somewhere on the edge of comic book, somewhere around the point where Point Blank ends and, oddly, where Josh Whedon’s Serenity begins. A noir wild west where every edge is sharp, every surface bleached and you can buy a clean up of bodies with a simple call and a shiny gold coin. The same coin will get you a night at a safe-zone hotel and will also gain you entry to a nightclub where you can relax without the threat of a knife in your back or cyanide in your Jamesons. A hotel where the rules are sacred and any suggestion of transgression automatically doubles the hit price and all but guarantees a bad day for somebody.

Keanu as John Wick is simply brilliant. He looks great and is utterly believable as kick ass hit man; he is mostly dressed in beautiful tailoring and carries out his action scenes with the aplomb of an action movie veteran. Which of course he is (Point Break is pushing its twenty-fifth birthday). A largely monotone cypher, Wick doesn’t say a lot, which works in Reeves’ favour. It’s definitely playing to his strengths and it’s his best role for a long time. He is in good company. Michael Nyqvist is superb as tormented gangster Viggo, a man who realises from the moment he makes the fateful call to John Leguizamo’s chop-shop owner (another superb piece of dialogue) that his fate has been sealed by his errant son. Alfie Allen is great as said entitled son Iosef, too dumb to ever really appreciate just how badly he has fucked this for everyone - right up to another superb piece of half uttered subtitled dialogue when he possibly, briefly, finally understands what he’s done. 

Willem Defoe pops up crucially as duplicitous assassin Marcus and we're fans of Adrianne Palicki here having great fun as lonely gunwoman, the ruthless Ms Perkins. Ian McShane has a memorable scene or two with a martini in a cravat (McShane not the Martini). Oh and Lance Reddick almost steals the show as concierge for the Continental, the hit man hotel of choice. We are aware John Wick won’t be passing the Bechdel test but at least the sole female character (apart from John’s dying wife) is a badass, is not scantily clad AND she doesn’t have sex with anyone. She is most definitely equal to the men, and that’s good enough for us. She also has one of the most brilliantly appropriate endings in a movie for a long time.

In short:

If you are planning to approach John Wick with an overly scrutinous, snobby and critical eye then it’ll probably live up to your disappointment but this movie ain’t making no false promises. If you like the trailer it is highly likely you will like the film, it does exactly what it set out to – it is a somewhat asinine revenge thriller that happens to have been the most fun we’ve had at the cinema for a while. There is a pretty simple way you can approach the suitability of this movie. If you can not only stomach but positively relish 102 minutes of wholesale slaughter all in the name of a cute puppy’s death, this is the movie for you. If that sentence gave you any pause for thought, then, well, this may not be your movie. We can’t wait for John Wick 2. Oh and the Point Break poster is back up on the wall. One of Hollywood’s most enduring, canny action stars is back. But then, he was never really away.

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