John Wick Movie Review
One of the greatest action flicks, as well as the surprise hit of 2014/2015! John Wick contains an engaging anti-hero & intriguing world-building!
Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo & Bridget Moynahan.
Run Time: 101 min.
US Release: 24 October 2014
UK Release: 10 April 2015
German Release: 29 January 2015
I never got to see the first John Wick in cinemas, only having encountered the action film in a store, as I was scouring through for some new blu-rays. It is there that I found the cover, featuring Keanu Reeves, which cemented my decision to buy it and give it a try. What I experienced was not simply one of the best action pictures, but one that had relatable emotional trauma, an amazing comic book-like underground world-building, as well as some fantastic stunts, by Reeves himself! It is a small contained story, which really spoke to me. So, let’s punch into my review!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
With the untimely death of his wife still fresh in his memory, ex-hit-man John Wick, receives a final gift from her. A puppy to help John find new meaning in life. When a young, arrogant, son of a Russian mobster breaks into his house, steals his car, and kills the precious keepsake, Wick is forced to come out of retirement to obtain his revenge.
The script is amazing! By keeping the plot condensed, the sole focus can lie on the lead, as well as his emotional voyage. The movie opens with the last scene, in which John watches a video of his deceased wife, who as we learn later, died from an unspecified illness. It then jumps back a couple of days prior, setting up a bond between our main character plus the audience, as he obtains a puppy to take care of, as a parting gift from his wife. In just a short amount of scenes, it is shown how much he cares for the little dog.
This brings us to John’s motivation concerning the rest of the runtime, as a couple of Russian mobsters break into his home, ambush him, steal his car and kill the pup, who was trying to defend his owner. Viewers immediately connect with Wick, who suffers a massive emotional blow. What is then revealed, is that he was a former master assassin, having put his violent life in the past, in exchange for love. Now fueled with absolute rage, he goes on a murderous spree, to avenge the murder of his dog.
What we obtain is a slick, fast-paced action thriller, which stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski, couldn’t have managed any better! The graphic novel-like world-building of the criminal underworld is intriguing, setting up rules that everyone needs to abide by.
The dialogue in it came as a surprise. The infliction in the words, when speaking out threats, was chilling, yet it also includes a lot of sensitive moments that touch one’s heart. The humour is subtly dry, yet effective. There is a little issue with the translation for the Russian folklore witch Baba-Yaga, who is referred to as the Boogeyman, however, that is simply nit-picking.
Keanu Reeves as the titular character is simply phenomenal. This might even be his best role to date! Not only does he sell his performance as an ice-cold killer, through his physicality, but he also has a softer emotional side to him. Wick has a clear moral code he follows, as such, he is an appealing anti-hero for viewers. The slow reveal of who he is, reaches a point of climax, as Iosef tries to sell the stolen car to an acquaintance of his.
Michael Nyqvist was perfectly cast as Viggo Tarasov, the head of a Russian crime syndicate, just like the main character’s former employee. It is Tarasov’s son who committed the crime against the ex-assassin, making Viggo the main antagonist in the story. Nyqvist is great, giving a threatening presence in every scene he is in.
Ian McShane has only a small role, as the owner of the underground hotel - The Continental. Nonetheless, he gives a compelling rendition. Winston is an old friend of Wick, who helps him out of respect for him. He also offers guidance.
Finally, we have Alfie Allen, playing the arrogant yet cowardly Iosef Tarasov, while Lance Reddick makes a memorable appearance, as the concierge/manager of the Continental.
Cinematographically, this action thriller is a beauty to look at. The use of light and shadows is effective, even using changes in colour, depending on the scenes. Images in which the puppy Daisy is in, are filled in a golden shade. The underground world of assassins is tinted in a cold, blue hue. The action segments are shot in wide, with close-ups spared for quieter scenes. Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, who was until then only known for low-budget independent pictures, did wonders editing-wise, using cross cuts plus intercuts. Being directed, as well as produced by veteran stuntmen, the action sequences look mesmerising. Most important, however, the fighting choreography plus stunts feel real, with Reeves himself getting very physical in it. I watched it back in the day with a friend who does MMA; he was blown away by the correct moves used. The visual effects team did wonders in the stunt scenes they worked on, though I am not a big fan of CGI blood. I am also curious as to why the dog poop needed to be created digitally.
The score contains melancholic, ominous, distorted sounds that increase in intensity, the further the violence escalates. Intertwined with the soundtrack composed by the duo Tylor Bates and Joel J. Richard, are different rock songs by Marylin Manson, Le Castle Vania, or Kaleida.
Verdict: In all honesty, there is nothing negative I can say about this action-packed flick. Maybe just the fact that it keeps playing into the “Russians are bad guys” stereotype, but that is nitpicking at this point. Derek Kolstad wrote an amazing contained screenplay, focusing on the lead’s path of grieving, as he is forced out of retirement, thanks to a thug having killed the puppy left to him, by his deceased wife. In less than fifteen minutes, Stahelski established an emotional bond between the lead persona and the audience, as well as the motivation for John coming out of retirement. From there on, the movie focuses on fast-paced revenge action, which is captured beautifully in long shots, without cuts interrupting the flow of battles. Keanu Reeves is brilliant as the title assassin, showing cold efficiency in killing, just like a vulnerable sentimental side. The music underlines the different characteristics of the lead. John Wick is a perfect action thriller, deserving a 10 out of 10.
Which John Wick movie is your favourite? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below & as always, thank you for reading! If you like the content, please subscribe!