Film Review: John Wick (USA, 2014)

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The last major film Keanu Reeves starred in was the abysmal 47 Ronin, a project which took Keanu out of his element and demanded from him more than he could actually give. David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick is an entirely different story, playing to Reeves’ strengths and giving him his best role in years. The film, masterfully produced by Basil Iwanyk, has enough style and character to make up for the dreary and quite dark plotline, balancing things nicely to give us something which is consistent and engaging throughout.

Reeves as John Wick gets to ham up ‘sad keanu’ quite a bit as we begin with a semblance of wordless backstory, table setting and giving us reason for his eventual descent in to hot-blooded hell raiser. Wick’s wife has just lost her battle to cancer and left behind a well-off man with a completely shattered and bleak outlook on life; he takes his mustang for chaotic drives and rarely interacts with anyone. It looks like things are over in his mind until a surprise comes in the form of an adorable beagle. It turns out that his wife secretly sent the dog so that Wick would have someone in his life.

Wick’s past is all but ignored during these opening sequences, with a sense of “where the hell is this going” until Iosef (Alfie Allen) jumps into the picture and shocks John back to his hitman days. Wick used to be an unstoppable, highly capable hitman who often did some work for Russian mob boss Viggo (Michael Nygvist), whose son just happens to be Iosef. When Allen and a dozen or so or henchman break in Wick’s house to beat him within an inch of his life, they carelessly and quite brutally murder his treasured dog. They take the life of his loved pet and also the last gift of significance that his wife gave him; Iosef and his mates have committed the worst possible crime against a man whose bereavement was so insular and draining that the bloodlust spills off screen and pervades the audience simply because of how symapthetic Leitch, Stahelski, and Keanu have made Reeves.

The hitman past comes out of Keanu, steering the movie into Taken territory but leaning towards the style and delicacy of the recent The Equalizer. Add a fast-paced burst of the genre’s best paired up with the visual flair of the film and you end up with something that far exceeds expectation. The almost fantastical action scenes are brilliantly choreographed, no doubt thanks to the directors’ proficiency with stunts and close-quarters combat. Though it’s the characters who really bring a spirited edge to John Wick and further balance out Keanu’s stoic and quite creepy performance. In particular, there’s William Dafoe as the most memorable, a former colleague of John’s who is now driven by Viggo and his desire to dispose of the thorn in his side.

This is the type of movie that may one day be made into a video game, and it’s something which breathes new life into the now common trend of taking a long-standing actor and having him go off on a one-track revenge thread with relatively no twists or turns to throw the bloody path off course. John Wick is much more than Keanu Reeves avenging his dog; it’s a great look into what happens when you mess with the wrong man, on a level that is far deeper than you would expect.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 101 minutes

John Wick opened today and is currently screening in all cinemas across the country.