John Wick

Posted: April 15, 2015 in Film reviews
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Directed by Chad Stahelski. Starring Keanu Reeves.

John Wick (Reeves) is a man in mourning after the recent death of his wife, Helen after a long illness. In the aftermath of her funeral he receives a delivery that was arranged by Helen before her death, the delivery is of a puppy named Daisy because she wanted to give John someone else to love after she was gone. Wick is initially wary about the dog, but the two soon bond.

Whilst out for a drive Wick meets up with several Russian mobsters led by Iosef (Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen) who is impressed by Wick’s 1969 Mustang and offers to buy it. Wick refuses, but that night Iosef and his men break into Wick’s home. They beat him, take his car keys and kill Daisy.

They don’t kill Wick though, which, as it turns out, is something of a colossal mistake. Back in New York Iosef’s father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) is horrified, because John Wick was a top drawer assassin who worked for Viggo for many years before retiring after he fell in love. Viggo tries to placate Wick, but John Wick doesn’t want apologies, he wants blood…

You’re never too old for a good revenge flick, and I’m pleased to report that John Wick is a good revenge flick. Whether it’s a true classic is harder to determine, but it’s certainly an enjoyable ride.

It’s fair to say it isn’t the most original of films. They’re definitely channeling Hong Kong action films of the 80s/90s here (think John Woo) with lots of sharp suits and a blend of martial arts and gunplay, but there’s also a more pulp take on the genre, harking back to classics like Point Blank, and it’s semi-remake Payback, with the idea of a lone man tearing through the underworld, seeking restitution for what is perceived, by the villains at least, as a minor sleight—in Point Black/Payback it’s a relatively small amount of cash, here it’s the death of a dog. There’s also more than a hint of the retired gunslinger/samurai called back to a life of violence.

Of course originality is no guarantee of success, and neither is familiarity a sign of failure, in the end it comes down to how well you put your vision on screen, and for the most part the people behind the camera put their vision across stylishly and frenetically.

Reeves perhaps isn’t the terrible actor he’s so often portrayed as, but as Wick he’s far more effective the less he’s saying, and he’s perfectly cast as the taciturn assassin, capable of injecting quiet menace into every scene, but not afraid to cut loose a vengeful rampage as the need arises.

He’s surrounded by a good cast, and it’s notable that even those in relatively minor roles bring a certain level of gravitas to their parts, be it Willem Defoe as a fellow assassin who Viggo hires to kill Wick, Ian McShane as the owner of the mysterious Hotel Continental, Lance Reddick as the enigmatic concierge of the hotel, or Adrianne Palicki as a rival assassin. It’s always a good sign when you can get actors of the caliber of John Leguizamo to show up for a two minute cameo.

Allen always plays sleazy villainy well, and Iosef is no exception. This is a guy you’ll have absolutely no sympathy for. As his father Nyqvist manages to inject a touch more honour, he’s still a bad man, but he has more of a code than his son, even if that code is twisted.

The fight scenes and gun battles are exceptionally well choreographed which you’d expect from directors who were stuntmen, although towards the end the gunplay does become a trifle repetitive, and the best actions scenes are probably in the middle of the film rather than the climax, if anything the film feels like it has one fight too many.

For a film that’s quite grim in places, it has a wonderful streak of dark humour and is laugh out loud funny at times. If it has a flaw (aside from being just a smidgen too long) it’s that it tries to balance being gritty with being quirky and doesn’t always manage it. There’s a slight disconnect between the bleak Russians and the somewhat surreal assassins’ hotel, where those in the business are forbidden from killing each other, and hired killers pay for things with large gold coins with no explanation given.

But, having said that, the quirky elements make the film more interesting so it’s probably an acceptable trade off.

Action packed and amusing, dark and violent I think the big test of this film will be how I feel when I watch it for a second time. Is it something that will only become more enjoyable with successive viewings (like Dredd), or something that will become easily forgettable (like…er, that film, you know)? The most positive thing I can say right now is that I’d quite happily look forward to John Wick 2, and especially more of the curious Continental Hotel.

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Comments
  1. The Continental Hotel reminded me a lot of the vibe in The Black List tv show. That same kind of ‘there is a whole criminal underworld with its own code just below the surface of normal life’ thing.

  2. starkers70 says:

    I don’t watch Blacklist, but I did like the Continetal stuff, and the body cleanup people as well!

  3. Blacklist has body cleanup too; the mysterious Mr Kaplan.

    At times it’s a fairly silly show, to be honest, but well worth a watch, I think.

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