Director: Chad Stahelski (2014)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Find it: IMDB
Essentially Sad Keanu: The Movie. In John Wick, Keanu Reeves plays a slasher movie villain to a ruthless gang of Eastern European mobsters. The catalyst? Silly Alfie Allen, stealing John Wick's car and murdering John Wick's dog. That sort of behaviour would already be enough to justify a bodycount of Taken proportions, but silly Alfie was daft enough to have done it mere weeks after the death of John Wick's wife. Oops.
Yet another addition to the increasingly popular grumpy-old-white-man-with-a-gun-and-a-grudge subgenre so monopolised by Liam Neeson of late, John Wick, on paper, shouldn't be anything special. Its story is entirely basic, its villains generic Russian bad guys. And yet directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch inject the proceedings with such a certain je nai se qua that it transcends its story (man shoots grimy assholes in the face, gets beat up, repeat) to become something really quite special. A lot of that is thanks to the casting of Reeves as John Wick, his deadpan, purposefully vacant style of acting a natural fit for a man who has lost everything except for his guns.
Cannily, instead of a refrigerated girlfriend, John Wick has John Wick avenging his dog.
There's a vibrancy and rhythm to the action sequences that make John Wick's vengeance trip unfold almost like a dance routine; particularly during the mid-movie nightclub scenes, where John Wick is blasting people in the face almost in sync to the music. It's violent, angry and perfectly vicious. Were this a Liam Neeson or (old) Steven Seagal movie, I'd be bemoaning the lack of realism to John Wick taking down swathes of men all (mostly) on his tod, but here it works, thanks to Keanu's laid-back performance and the film's treatment of his character. John Wick is a far cry from 'realistic', but it is refreshing to see an action film in which characters have to pause to reload all the time, while it does a good job of establishing John Wick's vulnerability yet also letting him consistently and believably kick ass.
John Wick and Keanu are supported by a sea of recogniseable and likeable faces, most notably Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane (playing the same character Ian McShane plays all the time now, but still good) and Lance Reddick. Adrianne Palicki, Michael Nyqvist and, yeah, Alfie Allen are nicely hateable as the villains - particularly Nyqvist, reluctantly and resignedly taking on John Wick thanks to his dipshit son's dipshit actions. Allen is fine here, in the same way as he's good on Game of Thrones - getting beaten up and tortured enough that his being Alfie Allen is sort of okay. The schadenfreude school of acting (see also: Danny Dyer) where we enjoy their performances only to see them get the piss beaten out of them at every opportunity. And as Alfie starts out the film murdering a fucking puppy, that piss-beating can't come soon enough.
I blubbered like fuck.
John Wick is one of the best action films of recent years, not surfing on irony or PG-13 bloodlessness, but instead letting its gunplay do all the talking. Perhaps that's for the best, because whenever anyone does speak, roughly 60% of what they say consists of the name 'John Wick'. John Wick, like this review, is the sort of film in which everyone says the lead character's name all the time. Apart from Ian McShane, who gets to call him 'Jonathan' (surely it should be Jon Wick, then). The non-shooty scenes get slightly tedious and I'd have preferred more character development for the dog (although I was crying after about fifteen minutes, so maybe that's for the best) but I'll have John Wick over Tak5n anytime, thank you very much. Let's just hope they don't go and ruin it with a sequel.