Keanu Reeves is on top form in John Wick, not only giving his 1994 film Speed a run for its money but leaving his character Neo back in The Matrix in this adrenaline fuelled action thriller where Reeves plays the ultimate bad-a** John Wick. The plot, in a nutshell, has the retired hitman struggling to deal with the love of his life’s death. His wife, before she dies leaves her husband a puppy, so he will have something to love. Enter Isosef Tarasov son of Viggo Tarasov, who is the old boss of Wick. A chance meeting at a gas station has the boy offering to buy John’s car, he refuses and the Russian mobster comes back, beats Wick, kills his dog and steals his car. When Viggo finds out what his son has done, he arranges to have Wick killed.
When stripping the plot down to its bare bones, it reads almost like the pretend plot of Romancing the Stone, where the heroine states that the bad guy shot her Pa, stole her bible, kicked her dog, etc, etc. Forgetting about the simplicity of the basic plot though is easy when the threads of the movie are interwoven to move the film forward at almost breakneck speed with enough humor and pathos to keep any action film fan happy for the one hour and 41 minute run time of the feature.
John Wick is the directorial debut of both David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. Both men have a solid background in the stunt world and it shows, but more of that later, interestingly enough Stahelski worked as Keanu Reeves’ uncredited stunt double on the 1991 film Point Break. The screenplay for John Wick was written by film world “neophyte” Derek Kolstad. The movie stars, Reeves as Wick, Willem Dafoe (The Fault in Our Stars, Pasolini) as John’s old friend and colleague Marcus; Michael Nyqvist (Days and Nights, Paris Follies) was Viggo Tarasov, Isosef Tarasov was played by Alfie Allen (Atonement, The Other Boleyn Girl).
Keanu Reeves in John Wick has moved forward and allowed himself to leave Neo from The Matrix in the past and has moved into a different niche from his old Speed days as well. Working with talented actors brings out the best in this award-winning performer and he even shines when working with the dog at the start of the film. There is no doubt that Reeves is in splendid physical shape and he pulls off the older hitman fight scenes with capable aplomb and in some of the more difficult fights, he allows himself that little bit more time to recover, lending a bit more believability to the scenes. His interactions with Dafoe, Nyqvist and Allen work well and these three main characters bounce off his legendary killer persona with ease.
Apart from those three actors, Bridget Moynahan (I Robot, Battle Los Angeles) played John Wick’s deceased wife, Adrianne Palicki (Red Dawn, Legion) was hitwoman Ms Perkins, Lance Reddick (American Horror Story, Fringe) was the hotel receptionist and Ian McShane (Hercules, Cuban Fury) is Winston. This list of capable character actors are not the only well known entertainers to grace this film with their presence as Reeves has chosen, quite wisely, to surround himself with top talent and his performance benefits as a result.
The two directors have done a brilliant job as their stunt background enabled them to make the choreography for each fight scene, whether it be physical or of the gunplay variety look spectacular. Not in the sense of OTT Bruce Lee acrobatics, but more in the style of elbows, knees, pressure points and blows to the weak points of the body. These fights felt more than real and looked natural rather than rehearsed to death. Award winning editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (Contraband, The Deep) contributed to the fight scenes with an editing style that was tight and seamless. Full honors must be given to the fight coordinator Jonathan Eusebio (300, The Avengers) for setting up scenes that did not look like kung fu action by the numbers.
John Wick is no Neo nor is the film any type of replacement for The Matrix. Keanu Reeves plays an older hitman who has left his violent past behind until it catches up with him. Make no mistake about this film, viewers who expect to see some sort of mind expanding mimics that mimics Hamlet or questions reality should give this film a miss. John Wick is a great “popcorn” film. One where the cinema goer can sit back, stuff his or her face with snacks and cheer the good guy and boo at the bad guys, who are, of course, Russian; the 2014 baddie of choice. John Wick opens October 24 in theaters across the country. Prepare to be swept off of your feet by the action and to see Reeves knock this one out of the park.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theatre 18