TL;DR – A really good action flick and an example of world building done right.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
John Wick has been out on DVD/Digital Download for some time and with a sequel now on the cards, I thought I would have a look back at one of the better action films in recent times.
The basic plot of John Wick is that the titular character John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a man who was once in deep in the Russian mob, and through an impossible act he freed himself and settled down with his new love, only for her to pass away. The last thing his wife did was buy John a puppy so he could move on from his grief. The son of the Russian Mob boss Iosef (Alfie Allen) mistakes him for an easy mark, this is an error, a grave error.
Keanu Reeves (John Wick) has caught a lot of flak during his career, mostly with illusions to his character in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But movies such as this show his absolute commitment to his art, is it an Oscar winning performance, no, but he shows absolute commitment from start to finish. Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov) works well as the head of the Russia Mob, put it the position of risking everything to protect his son and Alfie Allen (Iosef Tarasov) works well as the punk ass son of a crime lord with delusions of grandeur, though his dialogue coaching needed a little bit more work as he jumps from Russian to American to English accents though the film. Adrianne Palicki (Ms Perkins) brings a real intensity and physicality to her role, and I would not be surprised if it was this that landed Palicki her current gig on Agents of SHEILD. Ian McShane (Winston) and Willem Dafoe (Marcus) bring the class and seasoned performances to their roles.
I have seen John Wick described as like a reverse slasher film, and I can see how you could make that comparison, I mean they literally refer to John Wick as the ‘Baba Yaga’ a figure from Slavic mythology that you do not want to cross. In the end, though it’s more in the vein of say Taken, where instead of just being a general revenge figure (à la Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees) they are characters where a great wrong has been perpetrated against them, so they are seeking reconciliation from that specific grievance. This gives the film more impact and emotional weight than your standard slasher flick.
The action in this film is also top class, and you can tell that the directors Chad Stahelski & David Leitch understand action (they should, they come from a stunt background). The action is a lot of ‘gun-fu’, sort of in the same vein as Equilibrium, but unlike a lot of western depictions of ‘gun-fu’ John Wick tries to place it in some semblance of reality. The action is used to show just how much of a professional John Wick is. Each action has weight, no movement is wasted. For example, the opening fight scene in John Wick’s house shows the skill in staging, acting and directing that you expect in seasoned directors, not people doing it for the first time.
One thing I have to praise John Wick for is the masterclass it gives in world building. Even though John Wick exists in the real world, it posits that there is a secret underworld that runs by its own rules. Now normally to try and explain how the rules/systems of this new world works, there would usually be some exposition dump. For example, bring in a new character so an old one has to explain to them how it all works (see CSI) or try and put something ‘entertaining’ on the screen so the audience forgets it is sitting through an exposition dump (the infamous sexposition from Game of Thrones). In John Wick, they follow the wise words of writing ‘show don’t tell’. Through careful framing of scenes, use of dialogue and through careful reinforcement, the viewer understands how the system that these characters live in works.
However, not everything works, Dean Winters (Avi) is a really good comedic actor with some great dramatic chops, but here I honestly don’t know why he’s in the movie, he serves no real purpose. The ‘in medias res’(the term for when a movie etc. starts in the middle of the film at some climatic moment and then jumps back to the start) feels a bit forced and probably didn’t need to be there. John Wick was filmed on a really small budget and what they do with such little money is remarkable, but occasionally that lack of funds show, mostly in special effects where a some of the blood splatters are clearly CGIed etc. Also, there is this really awkwardly filmed scene at the start of the film where Keanu Reeves is talking to Willem Dafoe and from the way it is shot I get the feeling they could not get both actors on set at the same time, so it feels like they are talking to a wall not each other.
If you like action films John Wick is one of the best in recent times (Mad Max still takes the best cake) and the first step in an interesting franchise, just please, please, please people working on John Wick 2, don’t go all Taken on us again.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Chad Stahelski & David Leitch
Written by – Derek Kolstad
Music by – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard
Starring – Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Lance Riddick & Willem Dafoe
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Ireland: 16; NZ: R16; UK: 15; USA: R