reviewed by Tom-Tom
It had been a while since we had seen Keanu Reeves in anything decent. Richard Linklater’s excellent adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s stoner drama with Sci-Fi elements A Scanner Darkly rings a bell. Reeves, for all the flak he is often given about acting ability (That “sneeze” from The Lake House still rankles a bit), handles somber, world weary roles rather well as evidenced in the underrated Street Kings. In John Wick’s opening scenes, after the obligatory flash forward of his bloodied countenance crawling on hands and knees from a crashed SUV, back in the present, we feel his pain without one word of dialogue not just with the weighted strings in the score, but in glances towards the empty side of the double bed, the his and her sinks. He bears this emotional weight with style which is why, when the inevitable action begins, the well of pain and angst hinted at in these opening scenes qualifies his later actions.
Among the scenes of loss is a rather moving scene of gain in the form of a cute puppy delivered courtesy of Wick’s departed wife with hope that he would grow to love something alive (“your car doesn’t count”, she muses). His car, which is a jet black 1969 Mustang, catches the eye of a Russian gangster Iosef (Alfie Allen or Theon, of Game of Thrones fame). Iosef asks the price for which Wick might sell his cool ride but is told the American Muscle Car is not for sale. This is the beginning of much hardship.
The premise of this film is so well known that I won’t deign to repeat it here but suffice to say, through acts of theft and cruelty, Iosef incurs the wrath of John Wick. Up to this point, we really have no idea who the eponymous character is other than a widower but through the mouths of various personages in the world of crime from stylish chop shop owner Aurelio (the always great John Leguizamo) to Iosef’s father, the Kingpin of the Russian mafia Viggo (Michael Nyqvist, adding class to a role which could have been dreadfully bad in the wrong hands). The growing dread and anticipation of the extent to which John Wick is capable balloons and finally explodes in non-stop action. This isn’t made for Hollywood action, it is something the filmmakers (whom almost all seem to have experience with stuntwork) deem gun-fu. Despite the numerous deaths, the carnage is relatively gore-free. Wick attacks with a trained assassin’s precision almost each shot finding its mark with double taps to the head for almost each assailant. I don’t seem to remember any slow motion scenes as all flies by in a flash. The gun-fu was pleasantly redolent of (if somewhat less stylized as in) the cult classic Equilibrium.
Along this road of revenge, we meet many charming characters who ease or thwart Wick’s way. There is even a hotel (The Continental) dedicated to assassins everywhere which functions on the currency of gold coins complete, a convenient stiff removal service who clean up after the dead henchmen Wick leaves in his beautiful home, and a rival assassin Marcus played by the king of the dead eye Willem Dafoe. An unconventional and appealing (I thought, anyway) aspect of John Wick was the colorful font used in subtitles when various characters spoke Russian. It adds a bit of a zany, comic book like twist on the action but somehow (for me, anyhow) doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the subject matter. It truly is a delicate balance.
John Wick wasn’t the cheap film I was expecting when I heard the premise. All aspects are seriously dealt with and there is a nice style which is just this side of pulpy. The camaraderie of the guests and staff of The Continental with the excellent Lance Reddick as Front Concierge with his trademark haute couture mannerisms this time with an unrecognizable foreign accent, the slow burn introduction of exactly who John Wick is, and the almost Shakespearean approach Michael Nyqvist as Viggo takes to the role of a Russian Mafia Don all contribute to a classic and entertaining film.