If ever you’ve thought that an action film didn’t have enough point blank head shots, look no further than John Wick. This is an absurdly violent, stylishly-executed revenge-action picture that delivers precisely what the genre promises. While at times repetitive, the film builds up plenty of goodwill with its lean, no-nonsense story and some highly-impressive action set pieces.
Keanu Reeves plays the title character. A former hit man, he has since quit the game to settle down with his wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan). After his wife and beloved dog (fair warning for those who are sensitive to these kinds of things) die, John is thrust back into action, hell-bent on taking out the Russian gangsters, led by Viggo (Nyqvist), who’ve taken everything from him. Daunting amounts of machine gun fire ensues.
Director Chad Stahelski, previously a stunt man and coordinator, demonstrates immense skill and confidence in his directorial debut. The numerous action sequences in John Wick (little time is spent on story once the revenge begins) are all shot cohesively and in visually interesting locales. Stahelski stretches the screen and allows us to actually see and feel what’s happening, rather than hack-editing each sequence together and blurring the screen with shaky cam. The end results are some stunning action scenes that lift the film up a few notches considering the tried-and-true, familiar nature of its revenge narrative.
Reeves excels as the cold, calculated John Wick. Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad stack the deck against Wick so much in the opening twenty minutes that his anger and thirst for revenge seems reasonable, even in the consequence-free world in which the film exists. Reeves emotes the character well and adds some depth to what can only be described as a killing machine. Michael Nyqvist, as the lead Russian gangster, adds some much-needed dry and dark levity to the film. He’s the kind of guy who’s more than willing to hang his sons out to dry to save his own skin.
The calls for a return to real (i.e. non-superhero) action films have been getting louder of late, and John Wick heeds the message. It’s an old-school, vengeance-filled movie through and through dressed up as a real visual treat by Stahelski and his team. Recommended for genre fans.
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Length: 101 Minutes
Rating: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.
Theatrical Release: October 24, 2014
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters