Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Keanu Reeves continues his steady comeback in ‘John Wick’, as the titular character, an ex-hitman who was under the service of a large crime-mob for a number of years. After retiring and marrying, things appear to have settled down for Wick, until his wife develops cancer and dies. It seems almost compulsory that the significant other in a gritty movie such as this, will inevitably suffer some kind of tragedy. Despite the loss of his wife, John Wick eventually begins to get his life back together with the help of the dog she gave him, finally ready to overcome his grief until, predictably, his past life comes back to haunt him.
Thankfully, this is where most of the clichés end. However, the movie does spend a frustrating first hour or so, building up the character of John Wick as being one of the most bad-ass men to walk the Earth, only to then have everyone try to kill him. I mean, why present the protagonist as being this undefeatable, unstoppable force and then pit him against inferior enemies. It just doesn’t make any sense in reality. Other than that, and the erroneous depiction of the mob boss, this is a quality action film. The tone of the film balances a perfect amount of action without making the viewing experience overwhelmingly intense or scary, à la ‘The Legend Of Drunken Master’. The sporadic, slower parts of the movie give some comic relief and help to carry the story along, altering the atmosphere of the film as a whole. It is refreshing to see a movie which is not heavily reliant on typical, Hollywood templates to form the dialogue and action scenes. Sure, there’s the classic pub shootout scene, but ‘John Wick’ frames this in a different, comical manner, making reference to the tropes this genre has developed over the years and literally, shooting them down.
Interestingly, for a mobster based film, there was a significant lack of cursing. Of course, strong language can help to heighten the intensity of some scenes in some situations, but in the shoot-em-up, action genre, I believe this to be a contrived and at times distracting element. When cursing becomes the foundation of your dialogue, it is often a sign that someone is trying to disguise an otherwise, rather dull story. Although Keanu Reeves is the dominant, lead character, it was pleasing to witness a competent support cast, characters who actually contributed to the story. In many movies, particularly action movies, these side characters are often guilty of being absent in the real, gritty section of the narrative, only popping up again at the end (think: the entire ‘Die Hard’ series) and providing us with nothing more than a filler in the plot. To a certain extent, by including familiar faces, such as Willem Dafoe, the film plays on our preconceptions, leading us to be pleasantly surprised by the level of accomplished acting which was prevalent from all involved, something we often take for granted.
Every once in a while, a top-quality action film comes along to remind us all why we love artistic violence so much. This is certainly one of those movies. ‘John Wick is explosive, fast-paced and incorporates just the right amount of genre clichés and contradictions to these, to make this a fun, thrilling, revenge movie. The story is excellent and the actors involved help to create a delightful atmosphere with eminent performances throughout. I wholeheartedly recommend this as a must-see movie.
Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10