Tuesday, November 4, 2014

John Wick (2014)

Directed by: David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
Runtime: 1hr. 41mins.
4/5*


John Wick is a something of a classic action/revenge film. It follows the tropes: an aging hit man leaves the business only to be dragged back to it for one last job. It doesn't offer much in terms of story, or character development, but it does have a pretty good setup and it certainly delivers on excellent action sequences.

Keanu Reeves has not enjoyed much success at the box office lately, particularly with last years rather unsuccessful 47 Ronin. John Wick is likely to be his most successful (and well received) film since The Matrix or Speed.

The film opens with John grieving the loss of his wife. Before she died, she wrote him a note and bought him a dog so he would have someone to help him grieve. By random chance he pulls into a gas station to fill up his 1969 Mustang Cobra, where young Russian Mobster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen of Game of Thrones) takes an interest in the vehicle.

After refusing to sell the car to him, Iosef and his goons break into John's house, beat him up, steal the car and kill his dog. Iosef's father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), the head of this family of mobsters, is outraged when he hears of this. John Wick was an associate of theirs before he retired. One of the best hitmen in the business, and one so good at what he does, he strikes fear into even Viggo himself. He refers to John as not quite the boogeyman, rather he's the man you'd send to kill the boogeyman.

As a preemptive strike, knowing John would come for his son, Viggo sends a group to attack John in his home. Of course, this time John is ready, and the act only serves to escalate this little war. Of course, from there on it's standard revenge film fare. Although the execution of it is much better than any I've seen in quite some time.

Michael Nyqvist excels as Viggo, especially in building up and selling the mystique of John Wick. There is also some decent world building here as everywhere John goes he meets other mobsters and assassins. In particular, there's a hotel he visits that is a safe haven for assassins where it's agreed that no one will conduct business on the premises, and everyone knows everyone. When John visits the bar everyone recognizes him and asks if he's coming out of retirement. This brotherhood of villains even have their own currency in the form of gold coins that resemble old doubloons. And there is even a cleaning service, known to these killers, that specializes in the cleanup and disposal of dead bodies after a hit. It all adds layers to the world these characters inhabit.

I give them credit for casting Reeves because it marks a possible resurgence much like the character he's playing (one trailer even made reference to this). Viggo remarks how he looks much like the Wick/Reeves of old, and Wick/Reeves himself states that he's back even if he may have been avoiding it before. However, I will say it's not a perfect bit of casting. While casting Reeves hits one nail on the head, it seems to miss elsewhere. He looks very good for 50 years old, to the point where until I looked it up, out of curiosity, I didn't realize he was that old, and clearly John is supposed to be aging and hoping to stay in his retirement. Also, with all the build up they give John and his abilities, Keanu Reeves just isn't an imposing enough figure, and they spend a good portion of the opening of the film making him seem anything but an imposing figure.

Also, disappointingly, the film doesn't quite build up to a grand finale. The ending isn't exactly bad, it's just a little too predictable and too on the nose. Nevertheless, it's a very entertaining and stylish action film. Perhaps even the best of its kind for many years.