Director: Chad Stahelski and (uncredited) David Leitch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nvqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Running Time: 101 mins
Release date: 10th April 2015
It seems a very long time since Keanu Reeves has made a half decent movie (if you don’t include the excellent documentary about film, Side By Side, which he directed). There was a time when he was everywhere and even though his acting talents were, shall we say, minimal, he was having hit after hit. After a long gap, he is back in, possibly his best role to date, in one of the coolest action films in year.
John Wick is a man grieving after the tragic death of his wife. Left alone with his memories, he receives a dog, the last thing left to him by the woman he loves. Late one night, he becomes the target of car thieves, who kill his beloved puppy and leave him battered and bruised. What these car thieves, the leader being Iosef, the son of Russian mob boss, Viggo Tarasov, didn’t know is that John worked for Tarasov as a hit man, who they nicknamed The Boogeyman. John wants revenge, even if it means going up against his old employer.
John Wick isn’t the most original of stories. An old-fashioned revenge thriller, simple as. Yet what directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who is uncredited, have done is inject new life into, what is predominantly, a B-movie genre flick. The two men, former stuntmen by trade and making their directorial debuts, know how to handle action sequences, so instead of the usual fast-paced, edited to an inch of its life, set pieces, they shoot the film wide angled and steady so we can see every inch of violence.
They’ve also given the film a sniff of film noir, shooting in scenes of neon and adding to a sense of cool. That is the main ingredient to the mixture. The whole thing just oozes cool. From the stylised look of the film, the sharp suits, the fast cars, right down to the air of tension. Yet the source of such coolness comes from Derek Kolstad’s script. Most action films forget about the quieter moments, letting the action do the talking. Not here. Instead the talkie parts come across more interesting than some of the extended shoot-outs, with dialogue that is surprisingly witty.
What also helps is that we are given a lead character who isn’t just a cold-hearted killer but has some depth. It’s his emotions that are leading him to do the things he does. You understand his motives. You can see that he is a man in pain. He’s also not entirely invincible, getting blooded and battered throughout the film.
Given that, its perfect casting for Keanu Reeves, with his deadpan delivery, he walks through the movie with gallons of charisma, with a terrific sense of comic timing to go with it. Physically he pulls it off too, having to perform many of the fight sequences himself. Aiding him is a solid supporting cast, with Michael Michael Nvqvist particularly effective as Tarasov and Adrianne Palicki almost stealing the film as a cold, calculating hit woman called Mrs Perkins.
John Wick should have been a bottom shelf, direct-to-DVD yarn. Instead, it has been elevated to one of the best action thrillers I’ve seen in a while. If you have an aversion to violence, then John Wick may not be the film for you but for the rest of us, this is an action-packed, ice-cold thriller that grips from start to bloody finish. It’s also a welcome reinvention of Reeves. Roll on, John Wick 2