By Adam Sturrock
John Wick (2015)
Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki
Length: 101 mins
I love it when films such as John Wick pleasantly surprises me. Scanning over the trailers, I thought it would have been – no offense – a little bit narratively shallow, but I was corrected.
John Wick, a film directed by former stunt men, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, doesn’t hide behind cheap jump cuts, using shaky cams as a crutch or frequent close ups in fights. Like musicals, the audience knows if there is fakery and throughout the film, long takes and the leads doing most of their stunts erases any doubt of smoke and mirrors.
The characters are fun and comical to the borderline limit and everything is choreographed so that it looks professional, but not to the point that every fight is a breaze. Be it rust or just being human, John Wick and Co don’t always dispatch grunts with ease; if anything, they struggle (especially Wick) when removed of their weapons and forced to fight hand to hand.
John Wick builds up a self contained universe that cocoons the action. In a world where hitmen are common, hotels are built to accommodate them, like a game of tig they have a safe zone; a place to keep them from being shot while off the boil. Rather than using dollar bills in transactions, they use gold coins and with that, they have euphemistic terminologies when they greet and talk to one another. It’s made even more impressive by the fact that most of the film uses so little exposition to put these mechanics across, it’s framed so naturally that this universe could extend – with a pinch of salt – into real life.
The title character, John Wick (Reeves), has been left hollow by a career of murder and a life of heartbreak. He is a husk that has been drained of everything after a crippling loss but there is perhaps a respite in the form of a beagle, left as a final gift to him by his wife. Alas this doesn’t last for long and with heartbreaking precision, John Wick returns to his desolate state.
The culprit of such a cruel attack (and a lack of manners), ignorant of who John Wick is, will be in for a shock. Paraphrasing from the film, John Wick is the man you send to kill the bogeyman and he won’t stop until he gets his revenge.
Let’s be honest, it sounds tedious on paper for a revenge film to be built around the death of a dog. But the bond between man and dog can be strong and the film reinforces this by establishing the motives behind John Wick before charging on at breakneck speed for pretty much, the rest of the film.
The film is very much, a romp for an hour and a half. Other than the mandatory set up for sequels, it doesn’t get much wrong as an all – out action film.
Rather than make it a singular trigger for the revenge mission, it is framed as a build up of underlying tensions that forced him to take action, which was a pretty good move from the directors.
This a return to form for Keanu Reeves, who gets back to the type of action film that made him famous.