Overall Grade: (A+)
This wasn’t a ground-breaking film by any means but for its place in the genre, it delivered all you could ask for as Keanu Reeves shows he’s highly capable in the lead role resulting in a fun night filled night at the movies with gunfire, Russian mobsters, tailored suits and most importantly, violent revenge.
Former hit-man John Wick (Reeves) has tried his best to rebuild his life and leave the violence of his past in the rear view mirror. When his terminally ill wife passes away she leaves him the gift of a puppy as something to remind him of her and to give him something he can put his love into.
While gassing up his muscle car Wick catches the attention of the wrong crowd and when he turns down the offer to sell his vehicle he has no idea the violent actions that will result. After being beaten, seeing his dog killed and car stolen Wick will come out of retirement and use his set of skills to seek revenge on those who took everything from him.
I will be the first to say that after seeing the trailer for this film I was expecting a mindless action romp at best. Being I love action films that was far from a deal breaker so my excitement to see this one never wavered. After watching I can feel safe in saying it brought me more than I was expecting. Sure there were some classic Hollywood conveniences in the story-line but it never hindered the enjoyment of the film.
The story sets the scene nicely, in the first-act we are set-up with the background of the John Wick characters infamous mystique. Flashes of his happier times with his wife reel you in before she is taken off life-support, this builds your emotional connection that is used to completely tug at your heart strings as he receives a note from his late wife with a small adorable (aren’t they all) puppy. In the days following the funeral you can feel a connection to the almost zombie like approach to his life as he once again faces monumental adjustments.
This emotional tie-in only fuels your interest in the film as the first-act concludes with the introduction of the unsavory Russian gangsters. Alfie Allen plays the role of Iosef Tarasov, the son of the mob boss who clearly relishes his status. Allen plays the character you love to hate with perfection and after attacking Wick in his home, killing his dog and stealing his car with his brash cockiness, you want him to die as much as Wick will soon want to kill him.
A good thing about this film is that your intrigue is pulled in quickly and by the time the second-act, and main plot of the story get going you are truly captivated, something many films in the genre can’t pull off. From here the story-line takes off as you follow Wick coming out of retirement and leaving right where he left off. The main draw of action films are fight-scenes, gun-play, explosions and lets be honest, cheesy dialogue loaded with laughable male bravado. The quality of the story is often a distant second, but for this film the story-line was much better then I had expected.
Keanu Reeves was excellent in the lead, he executed the action-sequences with a controlled precision and silent rage that worked well with the mood his character was given. He was capable, compelling and skilled in his portrayal of the dangerous hit-man and for being who he was, a former criminal, he was still easily likable as you focus on his path of revenge and not his past actions that make him who he was.
There was a nice collection of side characters that all served various purposes. Michael Nyquist was great as the mob boss and his many reactions to the situations his son put him in managed to convey his power, his fear of Wick, his anger towards his son and his inner conflict of business or family. It was not only his but the many reactions from all of those who discovered Wick was back in the game that added a shroud of mystery to the main character, it was subtle, but in my opinion had a great impact on building my background thoughts on who Wick was as well as his capabilities.
As for the action, it was plentiful and well executed. The fight-sequences were fluid, fast and visceral and Reeves pulled off the moves with grace. His character was a definite bad-ass but not to the point where he didn’t take a hit or two along the way. There was nothing about the sequences that didn’t exude precision, even down to the clever re-loading techniques the filmmakers added. The scenes were violent, adrenaline pumping and served as a great addition to a solid story-line.
Something else I liked about this film that was subtle, and yes implausible, was the creation of the underground crime sub-culture. It was a intriguing subplot to the film and instilled some thought as you watched. The hotel that was a safe haven and business free zone was a clever addition that was absurd in thought, but entertaining for this film.
It allowed for the character of Charon (Hotel Manager) played by Lance Reddick to deliver a couple of chuckles to break the emotional pace. It also enabled Ian McShane to give his character Winston some mysteriousness to the underground crime-world along with the routine pop-ins from Charlie played by David Patrick Kelly who would respond to ‘dinner reservation’ calls.
Overall this was a great (pure) action film. Sure it won’t win any Academy Awards and does pack a collection of Hollywood conveniences to wrap things up neatly, but it does not hinder the fun this movie delivers. Reeves was again excellent and with the blood-pumping violence this one gives it would be great to see him in more action roles similar to this one. “John Wick” is a nice, complete package and for anyone wanting a clear action tale, with some good cast performances and a film with a nice fluid pace, this one will NOT disappoint.