On the Silver Screen – John Wick
Chad Stahelski’s John Wick casts Keanu Reeves as an ex hitman who comes out of retirement on a mission of revenge.
Keanu Reeves suits a certain type of film, I don’t think anyone can really argue with that. He is not a great actor but does certain things really well. In the past films like Speed or The Matrix -only the first one- have suited his detached, emotionless acting style. One thing he is very good at is the physicality of action films so John Wick is the perfect vehicle for him.
The character of John Wick is an uncomplicated man who is aware of the existence of emotions and maybe even has them himself from time to time but he doesn’t ever express them. As a retired hitman he’s seen and done a lot of terrible things over the years so having him be cold and detached even when retired makes a lot of sense.
As the film opens we get a quick introduction to the character and his recent back story. It turns out that he had a wife who died of a terminal illness and now he lives alone consumed by the pain this has brought him. Things start to look up when he receives one last gift from his wife, a puppy that will keep him company and bring joy to his life again.
Of course this would be a really boring film if it was spent following Keanu Reeves as he gets used to having a dog in his life so things happen that spur him into action. A group of criminals steal his car and kill his dog which causes John to dust off his old hitman skills and take revenge on them. I have to say that I love the concept of a film based entirely around a man avenging the death of his dog. It does represent the relationship with his wife and he can’t really go on a revenge mission against Cancer -wouldn’t it be great if he did?- so the dog becomes his motivation. I really liked this because the avenging a dead wife thing is very overdone in films so this felt a little different.
It takes a little while before we see John Wick do what he is apparently very famous for but the buildup is great. There’s an extended dialogue scene where Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) explains to his son Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) why John Wick is a really dangerous man who should be feared. It’s clear that he has a reputation for being pretty much the best there is and that killing his dog was a very bad idea. It’s a good scene that builds the expectation of what is to come nicely. I liked that it cast John Wick as something other than human. It’s even said that he’s the guy you send in to kill the boogeyman, it’s pretty intense stuff.
Obviously that buildup would be completely meaningless without suitable payoff. I’m happy to say that it comes together nicely once we see what John Wick can do. Throughout the film he seems pretty unstoppable like some kind of human Terminator. He only really faces challenges when he’s overwhelmed by large numbers but even then they are no real match for him. It’s really impressive to watch his almost superhuman feats as he tears his way through the criminal underworld.
The action sequences are really impressive with plenty of shootouts and some car chases moving things along. Action scenes are frequent and the running time is short so the film does a good job of doing what it needs to do and getting out before it overstays its welcome. It never feels bloated or complicated and does what it sets out to do really well. I also have to applaud this film for a lack of rapid shakycam cutting. The action is always clear and well shot with no doubt about what’s going on. I really hate rapid shakycam cutting so it was appreciated immensely.
Some elements of the film didn’t work quite as well as others. Adrianne Palicki’s Ms. Perkins seemed like she was going to be a significant part of the film but her contribution only boiled down to a couple of scenes and an impressive action scene. She has very little screen time which contrasts with the importance implied by her earlier scenes. Similarly Willem Defoe’s Marcus wasn’t as well developed as the film seemed to want him to be. He was fine for what was there but his character was pretty ill defined. I feel that there should have been more given his importance to the overall plot.
A very entertaining and impressively paced action film that makes no apologies about the sort of film that it is.
Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast as the emotionally detached former hitman who is trying to live a normal life after years of terrible things. He is completely believable in the action sequences and his character is well established.
The film never feels overlong, overcomplicated or boring at any point. It moves seamlessly from action sequence to action sequence with very little in the way of padding. It’s generally just a great example of exactly what it wants to be.
A lack of shaky cam rapid cutting makes the action sequences seem dynamic and exiting with a very clear view of what is going on. It really lets us see how skilled John Wick is and how his opponents are no match for him. Kudos on the action direction here.
Barring a couple of characters who feel slightly superfluous this is a fun experience throughout and definitely brings Keanu Reeves back into focus.