John Wick (2014)

Review #1,094

Director:  David Leitch & Chad Stahelski
Cast:  Keanu ReevesMichael NyqvistAlfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo
Plot:  An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.

Genre:  Action / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  101min
Rating:  NC16 for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.

Vastly overrated, I feel, by critics, but John Wick is still a solid directorial debut for acclaimed stunts coordinator duo David Leitch and Chad Stahelski.  It is a viciously entertaining flick, at times nonchalantly brutal in its depiction of violence, and at other times, becoming a poker-face comedy that takes advantage of Keanu Reeves' flat acting skills, in a similar way The Matrix (1999) did with him fifteen years ago, and how The Terminator (1984) did with Arnold Schwarzenegger three decades earlier. 

Not that those films were funny, but this is.  In that regard, I like the tonal balance in John Wick – the balance between comedy and action.  That is what keeps it riveting and from falling apart.  To be honest, when I first heard that Reeves was starring in a film called “John Wick”, I scoffed. 

You can't fault yourself for thinking that it is going to be the kind of movie a certain Nicolas Cage would star in – a trashy action-thriller whose only marketability is a star, whose star, in all seriousness, is seriously disintegrating.

To the surprise of many, John Wick is a kick-ass, gun-blazing action film.  It is an old-school action vehicle, and quite literally because John, as played by Reeves, drives a smoking-hot classic Mustang that becomes the inciting incident for an absurd plot, which in all fairness, grows into you. 

"Don't set him off", says the movie's tagline; what ensues is beyond carnage, a kind of nihilistic ballet of bullets and bloodbath.  It is something that action maestro John Woo would have envisioned, but never quite pulled it off during his lengthy stint in Hollywood.

The film is imbued with ultra-modern sensibilities.  It is a neo-noir piece with moody visuals, methodical fight scenes, and rather self-conscious in its stylistic and aesthetical choices.  Night aerial shots of New York remind us that this is not a fantasy, and John can be wounded, providing an unlikely realism that other 'shoot-em up' movies ignore at their own peril.  It is a human universe, with its associated physics, and this is what makes John Wick a believable film.

Michael Nyqvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009) gives a terrific performance as the villain, forced by circumstance to become so, with his character taking on the mantle unwillingly yet gleefully.  As an action vengeance flick, John Wick scores with a bulls-eye. 

It even cheekily makes a point about youths' obsession with violent video games.  Listen up, or else, the film tries to say.  But as far as Mr. Keanu is concerned, he should be glad that he has managed to get his critics to sit up (and listen?).

Verdict:  An old-school violent action film with ultra-modern sensibilities that is a solid directorial debut for acclaimed stunts coordinator duo Leitch and Stahelski.


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