Depending on your perspective, ‘John Wick’ could either be a thrilling slice of action heaven, or a dramatically shallow film that values style
Although both are true, ‘John Wick’ is far too entertaining and skillfully made to let pretention get in the way of its enjoyment.
The film’s minimal character development and story occurs when former hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) loses his wife to cancer.
Knowing she was about to die, she leaves John a puppy as a way to cope with the loss.
While refueling at a gas station, Wick encounters a group of Russian mobsters, one of which tries to buy his vintage Ford Mustang. When
Wick refuses, they follow him home, beat him, kill his dog and steal his car.
How’s that for a setup?
From that moment on, ‘John Wick’ becomes an adrenaline-charged revenge flick.
As much as I would like to hold the total disregard for plot and character drama against it, the action sequences are executed with such
incredible energy and masterful choreography, that they justify the film’s existence alone.
Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, these former stunt performers/coordinators put many experienced directors to shame with
outstanding camerawork showcasing the film’s meticulous action choreography. The duo understands that increased shot length and
comprehensible cinematography actually heighten tension and energy. They make sure that every second of their setpieces are clearly
Wick fluidly dances from enemy to enemy, disposing them with an incredible blend of balletic grace and raw brutality. It’s a thrilling sight to
Stahelski and Leitch both worked with Reeves on ‘The Matrix’ films, and the action has a similar style, with its slick blend of martial arts and
(For the gamers out there: Many sequences also reminded me of the close quarters combat (CQC) in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.)
Reeves is good in the role, partially because so little is required of him dramatically, but also because he is so adept at fight choreography.
He’s also more than capable of delivering the occasional line of ironically amusing dialog.
If there’s one thing that elevates ‘Wick’ above strictly technical prowess, it’s a surprising sense of humor.
The best performance in the film belongs to Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tasarov, the father of the one of the punks that kills Wick’s puppy.
Tasarov is a former employer of Wick. His reaction when he learns what his son did is priceless. Nyqvist is hilarious, seemingly resigned to
the fact that Wick is going to kill them all. His stoic assessment of Wick’s skills almost reaches the brilliant level of Christopher Walken’s
character in ‘Man on Fire,’ but his dialog isn’t quite as memorable.
‘Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen is also good as Tasarov’s snotty son. He takes an amusing amount of physical abuse from his father and his
associates in response to his provoking of Wick.
Even a small role for Lance Reddick (as the manager of what seems like a hotel for hitmen) is memorable and funny.
If the film has very little in the way of dramatic depth, it certainly does have fun supporting characters.
Also essential is the film’s perfect editing. Even beyond the precision-cut action, ‘Wick’ comes in at an efficient 101 minutes, perfectly
balancing its shallow nature and intense thrills. There is no excess here.
While the snobby critic inside me has to mention the film’s overtly simple nature, ‘John Wick’ is pure escapist fare. ‘Wick’ isn’t art in the
dramatic sense, but it could be considered as such in its impressive kinetic energy and visual style.
Directors Leitch and Stahelski deserve a lot of credit for knowing exactly what film they were making and executing it brilliantly.
Turn off your brain and enjoy. ‘John Wick’ is highly recommended for action aficionados and revenge flick fans.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen,
Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki
Cinematography by: Jonathan Sela
Music by: Tyler Bates and Joel L. Richard
Released: October 24, 2014; 101 Minutes