To unintentionally celebrate the one year anniversary of creating Movie Snobbery, I decided to succumb to peer pressure and take the advice offered by the word-of-mouth generator (Reddit was mainly responsible for this) in seeing John Wick this weekend. I was initially going to pass this over until it started getting very positive reviews coupled with several great audience recounts of how this film hearkens back to times when action movies were not overly complicated but very simple (aka: the 90s). There’s very little clutter and the director seems to have adopted a very straightforward style of filmmaking headlined by the one and only Keanu Reeves.
So John Wick’s plot, as stated before, can be summarized very easily. Reeves plays the main character (take two guesses as to what his name is) whose former profession was being a hitman in NYC. He later retires from that life (not shown on the film) and settles down with a wife. When his wife dies from an unspecified illness years later, he is posthumously gifted a dog from her to help cope with her loss, which seems to be doing the trick.
However, one day the son of a Russian mobster (played by Game of Thrones‘ Alfie Allen) spots Wick’s sleek car and, being a spoiled brat, asks to buy it but is rebuffed by Wick. Furious, the mobsters invade Wick’s home, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog for good measure (probably hard to watch if you’re a dog lover). Having lost the one thing tying him back to his wife (the straw that broke the camel’s back), Wick embarks on a rampage to kill the hoodlum and bring everyone involved to bloody justice. Ten bucks says you can predict where this goes from here.
People may rant on Keanu Reeves and say that he’s a bad actor and what not, but I find that he is an extremely likeable person and a compelling actor to boot. Don’t ask me why, but I find a good amount of enjoyment from his performances and hopefully this film rejuvenates his career so that he can pursue more roles like this one, as he is clearly in top form. You see his character at his most vulnerable, sometimes choking back tears, other times in full on rage mode – screaming at his enemies all the ways they’re going to die painfully. The dialogue might have been considered cheesy had another actor been given them but Keanu has this weird gift of making even the crappiest of lines sound awesome. Props to him, this is his movie and he deserves some praise.
Alfie Allen plays the idiot that kills Wick’s dog and starts this whole shebang in the first place. If nothing else, you’re going to be seeing a movie where Theon Greyjoy gets his ass kicked around for most of the movie so that’s some small comfort. Michael Nyquist (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series [Swedish], Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) plays the main mob boss, and Allen’s character’s father. It’s at least refreshing to see someone other than Rade Sherbediga play a Russian mafia guy and Nyquist certainly has a nice take on the character. He and Wick have something of an understanding given that Wick used to work for the mob boss in the past. Both are polite, both have a system, and both can be ludicrously calm in situations when the only reaction is to scream hysterically. The old “charismatic villain” trope, in essence.
The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by what you could only classify as extended cameos. Actors like Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and that new crazy Allstate guy all have small roles in this film and it’s cool to pick them out if you’re familiar with their body of work.
One thing that makes John Wick stand out from its peers is that it is very cleanly shot, as in none of that shaky-cam crap that’s been saturating the screen ever since Paul Greengrass popularized the concept. The action is very crisp and clear, you can always tell what’s going on and the fluidity and evolution of the combat is very fun to watch.
The character of John Wick is a professional, and like a professional, he hits his mark every time. You see him in gunfights shooting people several times for good measure, aim for headshots whenever possible, and take cover whenever possible. It’s a very clinical and detached approach, stylish without being over-the-top. It’s a breath of fresh air to see fights like these at least trying to appear realistic and not overusing CGI to make ends meet. Perhaps that’s a benefit of it being a low-ish budget film.
In being a stripped, basic, action-thriller, the story unexpectedly sets up some ground rules for the characters to follow, a sort of code that apparently all gangsters in the city go by. In this movie, there exist these gold coins that can be used as a type of currency for mob-related activities, such as renting a hotel room in a safe-zone, accessing a private suite at a club, and other exclusivities. There is also a hotel in the middle of the city that is a haven for any mercenary and is run by another gang that enforces its status as a no-kill zone. Long story short, if you kill someone on that hotel’s premises, you get killed too. This implies that the movie has layers underneath its supposedly flat landscape and helps bring a bit of depth to what would otherwise be considered a competent shoot-em-up. It’s the little things like this that make John Wick a surprise and a delight.
Music fans should probably avoid pursuing the soundtrack to this film, if you compare it to more classically inclined ears. The score was composed by Tyler Bates (Watchmen, Guardians of the Galaxy) and a ghostwriter, and it appears that Bates has slipped back into the dregs of murky electronics and bass for this outing. There’s no hint of a main theme, not even any conventional instruments. It’s mostly just synthesizers and someone pounding on a drum kit to create a driving thumping noise that carries the characters through all of the bullets and the blood. Don’t get me wrong, it works fine in the film but it is much an assault on the ears as the booms from the guns. You might be better off just listening to gunfire for twenty minutes instead…
In the end, I did enjoy John Wick very much. I walked in with cautious expectations and left satisfied. Sure, it was rather predictable in that I knew how the movie was going to end, but I didn’t let that spoil it for me. I liked seeing Keanu Reeves firmly grasp his character and chew into it to bring us his best film in years. I liked the smooth, fluid action that allowed Reeves to flex his inner Neo and bring an entire organization to his knees. John Wick is definitely not going to be making waves come award season but it is a blast for anyone who desires that nostalgia for the action movies of old.
All because a guy killed a dog.
Final Score: 81/100