“John Wick” Movie Review

You know, I own a dog myself. A boxer, in fact, and she’s the most adorable thing on the face of this planet. If she was killed by some mobsters in the middle of the night, I would totally go after them and kill anyone standing in my way. This stylish neo-noir action thriller was initially released on October 24, 2014, when it quadrupled its $20 million budget following its premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Fantastic Fest a month prior. The script was reportedly tossed around for a while before Keanu Reeves caught wind of it. After that, he contacted Lionsgate, and now we’re here. Reeves stars as John Wick, a highly efficient and renowned assassin who has recently retired to live a quiet life. A few days after his wife dies, he is left with a dog in her memory, and while out on a road trip of sorts with it, insults some young Russian gangsters. That night, they break into his house, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. Now Wick is on an Apache warpath for revenge, reigning down the wrath of God on the Russian mafia. Whenever Reeves is involved in the production of a film, I’m always cautious. In real life, he’s an extremely nice and likable guy, but his acting chops have been a bit hard to buy. He’s virtually been playing the same character for nearly 20 years since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And none of the advertisements really grabbed my attention. It just looked like yet another action film riding on our nostalgia from hits in the 1980’s as well as the 1990’s. But there’s none of that here. Turns out it’s actually a really fun time and feels so modern in so many different ways. For one thing, the action scenes themselves are remarkably constructed and brilliantly helmed. What makes them work is the fact that there is NO shaky-cam and very few cuts, allowing the audience to follow and see everything with ease. The standout moment for me, as it was for a lot of other people as well, was when John infiltrated the Red Circle Night Club and just went to town on every bodyguard centered there. Hands down the best night club sequence since Michael Mann’s Collateral in 2004, this will likely be evaluated as a new benchmark for action filmmaking. The cinematography by Jonathan Sela echoes something of Roger Deakins, as he uses controlled lighting to create harsh shadows and beautiful contrasts in color. Specifically, between a blue teal and light red. And Elizabet Ronalds’ slick editing is nice and doesn’t go all Tak3n on us. Let’s talk about the acting. It’s fine. Not especially impressive, but fine. Reeves plays arguably his best character to date, a morally ambiguous hitman who just wants to lay low. There are some scenes which require him to show off some dramatic feeling, and for the most part, it worked. He virtually has an immunity to bad dialogue and is perhaps the only person who could possibly make this series work. Not to mention, he brings a lot of physicality by performing his own stunts, and you can actually see his face. Michael Nyqvist stars opposite as the leader of the Russian mafia who wants to avoid a conflict with the titular hero. He doesn’t want to take over the world or even fight Wick; he just wants to keep his family business running. Game of Thrones alum Alfie Allen is foolish and cocky as his son who basically sets everything in motion. There are also a surprising number of supporting players, such as Ian McShane as the mysterious owner of an interesting hotel, both Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki as two assassins from John’s past, John Leguizamo as a quirky head of a chop shop, and Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s deceased wife. All of them contribute something interesting to the overall package. The best part about John Wick, by far, is the intriguing world-building. At first glance, it looks just like any other action thriller that you’ve seen. But in reality, it spends time constructing a fascinating heightened version of the world we live in, built specifically for assassins. There’s an actual currency of gold coins, a clean-up crew for nasty jobs, hideout locations for various mobs, and an understanding of law enforcement. The biggest standout is the Continental Hotel, an international housing business that prohibits criminals from carrying out business on their grounds. And now, there’s a planned T.V. show centered on this hotel in development, so I’m definitely surprised by all of it. In a way, it felt kind of like a video game world, but you buy it. Just the creation of this whole world alone is worth repeat viewings to catch all of the intricacies because 1 hour and 41 minutes didn’t quite feel like enough to satisfy. Although it lacks a certain tangible depth for me to recommend for everyone, John Wick is an excellent return-to-form for its star and a really fun thrill ride. You’ll also see a review for the 2017 sequel in a little while, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, you can enjoy this fast-paced action film and have some fun picking up everything in this complex world.

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