John Wick Review
Keanu Reeves is a memorable actor; his name still evokes for many in my generation classic action movies such as Point Break and Speed. Therefore, it is see him return to his action roots following a couple of missteps (47 Ronin and his first directorial effort Man of Tai Chi).
In John Wick, Keanu Reeves plays... John Wick, a retired hitman who “laid the foundations” of the crime organisation he is now getting after to seek revenge against the son of his ex-boss (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones) and his friends after they destroyed the last thing left in his life after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan, Lord of War).
The fact that the movie is helmed by former stuntman veteran/second unit directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (co-founders of 87Eleven and stunt choreographers/stunt doubles for many Keanu Reeves movies) and a writer Derek Kolstad, with only two recent Dolph Lundgren direct-to-video movies to his credit, gives a pretty accurate idea of what to expect: a basic story with explosive actions scenes; and action is clearly the strongest asset of the movie.
No shaky cam or long lenses here, just very clear and impressively choreographed action scenes mixing martial arts, mainly judo and jiujitsu, and gun fights which the directors aptly refer as “gun fu”. Throughout the movie John Wick seamlessly goes from punching, throwing and shooting his many adversaries and it is actually quite refreshing to see innovative elements being put in place seriously in a Hollywood movie and working so efficiently; this is especially effective in a nightclub set piece. Keanu Reeves is no stranger to intense fighting scenes given his work in the Matrix trilogy and he does a very good job in making us believe in John Wick’s “particular set of skills”.
Unfortunately, the story is a huge disappointment. While initial indications are positive, once John Wick gets into the flow, it is quite difficult to feel any sense of peril, moving our protagonist from one set piece to another with little fear for his safety. Even if the directors and writer try to infuse some doubts regarding his fate is really difficult to imagine that John will not achieve his goal.
It is even more frustrating that the story started really well with the judicious use of the dog and car to justify John Wick’s actions strongly reminded of the seemingly unbalanced reasons that set in motion Walker, the main character in Donald Westlake’s famous novel The Hunter, unofficially adapted several times for the screen (the most famous ones being John Boorman’s Point Blank and Brian Helgeland/Mel Gibson’s Payback) to destroy an entire crime organisation.
Furthermore, there are glimpses of a richer, and perhaps more interesting, movie when the story hints at the world of refined killers living by a strict code and Reeves acting ability is well supported by the likes of Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo. John Wick remains a very entertaining, if efficient action movie that successfully melds glossy visuals, energetic action scenes and a hint of humour which helps elevate it above the obvious lack of story.