Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on the action-packed Keanu Reeves thriller – a return-to-form for the ailing star.
The definition of a high-concept movie is a film that can be pitched with a succinctly stated premise. Well, concepts don’t come much higher than action thriller John Wick, in which Keanu Reeves plays a former assassin who murders every Russian mobster in New York because one of them killed his dog.
Let’s face it, you already know whether you want to see this movie just from that description alone.
The film teases out the details of just who John Wick really is. We first meet him at the funeral of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), who has passed away after a sudden illness. Then an adorable puppy arrives by special delivery (Puppy Post); a deathbed gift from his wife in order to help him grieve. As you can see, this isn’t just any puppy. Shortly afterwards, John is pestered at a petrol station by weaselly Russian thug Iosef (Alfie Allen, embracing type-casting), who wants to buy his rather splendid-looking car. John then politely tells Iosef it’s not for sale, in Russian, which is the first clue that maybe there’s more to John Wick than meets the eye.
Later that night, John is ambushed in his home by Iosef and two accomplices, who give him a savage beating, steal his car and kill his adorable puppy for good measure. Big mistake. After burying the dog, John goes into his basement, smashes up some concrete and retrieves a case full of weapons, at which point he goes into full-on ass-kicking revenge mode and proceeds to either brutally murder or severely incapacitate every Russian thug that gets in his way. Meanwhile, Iosef’s crime boss father (Michael Nyqvist) puts a hit on John out of paternal duty to his idiot son, but it’s clear that every mobster in New York is aware of John’s fearsome reputation and none of them fancy their chances.
Co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (uncredited) both have a background in stunt co-ordination – indeed, Stahelski doubled for Reeves on The Matrix. This is immediately obvious from their brilliantly choreographed action sequences, which eschew close-ups and rapid editing in favour of sustained shots where you can actually see who’s hitting who and with what. They also pack the film with breath-taking set-pieces, to the point that it’s almost all action once that poor puppy’s in the ground.
John Wick is a man of few words, which suits Keanu’s trademark taciturn style down to the ground. Accordingly, he’s on terrific form here, dispatching bad guys with an athletic style and grace that would shame a man thirty years his junior (Reeves turned 50 last year). In addition, there’s colourful support from the likes of Ian McShane, as the owner of an underworld hotel for assassins with a strict no-murders-on-the-premises code.
What the script lacks in dialogue for its leading man, it makes up for in quirky and interesting detail, such as the creation of the afore-mentioned underworld, along with intriguingly unexplained details; the fact that gangsters apparently have their own currency, or that every police officer John meets treats him with friendly politeness.
In short, this is a stylishly directed and hugely entertaining thriller with some of the best action sequences you’ll see all year. Highly recommended.
Like this? Try this:
Share this on Twitter: