CINEMA RELEASE: JOHN WICK
Release date: 30th October 2014
Director: David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Michael Nyqvist
Classification: MA15+ (Strong Violence)
Review by Peter Gray
Prior to the release of ‘John Wick’ I doubt it was a film high on many a radar. The idea of a Keanu Reeves actioner didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in a public whose interest in the star was seriously waning – see ’47 Ronin’ for proof of that – and the outline for the film was basic at best as it sounded like just another disposable revenge thriller, so it comes as a particular surprise that not only is this is the best thing Reeves has lent his name to since ‘The Matrix’, but as it stands ‘John Wick’ is a seriously stylistic piece of cinema.
Clearly influenced by the wave of South Korean cinema, ‘John Wick’ is packed with a hefty hand of carnage and a seamless bout of choreographed brutality that lends weight to this American production that benefits from the more weathered looking Reeves, who at almost 50 years old looks remarkably good. Though his acting skills have often been brought into question, you can’t deny that there’s a certain serenity about Reeves as a performer and, in playing off that inherent kindness, the titular character manages to showcase himself as more than just a ruthless killer.
In the initial stages of ‘John Wick’, filmmakers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski present the film as a drama as we follow Wick (Reeves) during the grieving process having lost his wife (Bridget Moynahan) to cancer. Posthumously receiving a gift from her in the form of an adorable beagle puppy named Daisy, Wick starts to slowly rebuild, so it only makes sense that a Russian gangster, Iosef (Alfie Allen, best known from TV’s ‘Game of Thrones’), breaks into his house and cuts poor Daisy’s life short in the process of stealing Wick’s vintage 1969 Mustang. While it is never pleasant to witness the death of an animal on-screen, thankfully the film doesn’t go for gratuity in that area, and if you weren’t already on Wick’s side following his first meeting with Iosef, the death of Daisy will easily side you.
Once Iosef becomes aware of just who exactly he messed with – Wick’s background given a brief explanation via Iosef’s father (Michael Nyqvist) – the film turns up its action quota as Wick makes his way through the underworld on a mission to eradicate the city’s best hitmen. In addition to Iosef’s father, who also happens to be Wick’s former boss, there’s Marcus (Willem Dafoe), a former mentor, Kirill (Daniel Bernhardt) a combat-ready henchman, and the mysterious Miss Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), another assassin who clearly doesn’t believe in loyalty despite a friendship with Wick. Though none of these characters are seriously fleshed out, there’s enough information peppered throughout for the audience to connect the dots between them, and in keeping with the surrealistic tone of the film, the underworld of hitmen portrayed here all find common ground in a chic hotel, run by Ian McShane no less, where payment is only in gold coins and combat-on-premises is off-limits.
As simplistic as ‘John Wick’ is, there’s a sophistication and sense of personality to it all that results in it being far better than it has any right to be. It’s hard to say Reeves looks to be enjoying himself, but he does appear far more at ease working with this character, and if it doesn’t branch out to be a box office success (though its North American returns seem to indicate it’ll turn something of a profit) it’s the type of film that has cult classic written all over it.
My rating: 3.5/5