There was a lot of positive internet buzz concerning John Wick when it was released earlier this year. However, people too busy and popular to keep up to date with film nerd internet chatter may have missed out on it and that is an injustice I won't stand for, dammit.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired hitman who unretires himself after a group of thugs break into his home, steal his car and kill his dog. Wick seeks revenge and finds out that the man responsible, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) is the son of his former employer (Michael Nyqvist), someone who has seen firsthand how good Wick is at his job.
Obviously, there's more to it that that, but not much more.
The film is brilliantly simple and commits to a pared-down narrative. It reminded me of The Raid in some ways, especially in the way that both films have a simple framework to hang the ol' ultra-violence from.
Reeves is really effective as the lead. A lot of people still slate his acting abilities, but he's fantastic at playing someone slightly disconnected from everyone else.
It's a quiet performance, mostly letting his guns do the talking, but it works. Alfie Allen is on fine hateable form as Iosef and Michael Nyqvist does solid work as Iosef's despairing father.
The rest of the cast are mostly of the “Oh- it's thingy from Wotsit” variety. Willem Dafoe shows up as another hitman, The Wire's Lance Reddick plays a hotel concierge and Ian McShane shows up for about two scenes to give some handy exposition.
Normally, I'd have a problem with great actors having merely token roles, but in John Wick, bullets come before humans. The film also has a trick up its sleeve when it comes to filling in any missing backstory for these characters. Pretty much the entire cast are stuntcast i.e. hired based on the parts they usually play and slotted into the narrative.
We know Keanu's played badasses before and it informs our opinion of John Wick as a character. When stuntcasting doesn't work, that's when it turns into typecasting, but when it's used efficiently like this, it can add depth to a narrative that doesn't have time for it.
I've criticised films for their lack of narrative complexity before, but John Wick isn't really about the story. It's about the action setpieces and that's fine by me.
The action is top-notch stuff. It's fast and brutal with Wick landing headshots on people like they're going out of fashion. If that doesn't sound like a good time to you, I can respect that and would advise against seeing the film.
However, to the people out there like me who have had their brains warped as children by ridiculously violent media, it's a riot. Not only that, but the action is incredibly stylish and well-shot. Credited director Chad Stahelski has a vast history of stuntwork and it shows.
If you're sick of shakycam nonsense where you can't tell who is hitting who, John Wick will be a breath of fresh air. The fight choreography is crisp and clean and allowed to breathe, rather than being edited to within an inch of its life to achieve a lower age rating on release. It's unashamedly violent and mature and I love it for that.
The one detail that I loved about John Wick is how they build up the character and his history without boring flashbacks and the like.
The name “John Wick” is often spoken in hushed tones. The man has a reputation and is explicitly referred to as a “boogeyman”.
John Wick is basically a classic slasher film turned on its head. It's Friday the 13th where we're actively rooting for Jason Voorhees.
My only real problem with the film is that I felt it gets a bit baggy towards the end. I was expecting for the credits to roll about 15 minutes before they did. I've now seen the film three times and it becomes less of an issue on repeat viewings, but it certainly stood out to me first go around.
If you're into your action and haven't checked out John Wick yet, I urge you to do so.
It's a fantastic showcase for awesome stuntwork and features some terrific performances to boot.
It doesn't reinvent the genre wheel or anything like that, but it's a solid, enjoyable entry. John Wick 2 is already in development and I'm looking forward to it.