Thursday, October 23, 2014

[Review] John Wick

"He isn't a fucking nobody. He's John Wick."

We all know that Hollywood has no shortage of action thrillers of the assassin variety. I won't run down the list, but an apt point of comparison is the very recent The Equalizer. But John Wick stands alone. It has its own distinct identity. The premise delivers as much as you'd want it to, and more. The film also lets you breathe, but at the same time, there isn't a moment wasted. And most importantly... It's personal.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just lost his wife. After the funeral process, he receives an adorable beagle puppy as one last gift from her. One day while he's gassing up his Mustang, he has a confrontation with some Russian hoods. Iosef, the loud one of the group, is played by Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from "Game of Thrones"), and he's a little shit. Iosef gets angry when John Wick refuses to sell him the car, and we get the impression that he'll strike later. An early thing to notice about John Wick is its picturesque cinematography. An overhead shot of a rainy funeral creates a cluster of pure black. John Wick speeding around in his Mustang on a rain-glistened blacktop while the dawning sun and early morning fog casts a yellowish hue.

John Wick's tranquil, white-on-white mansion is interrupted when Iosef and his crew break in, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. It's a sad scene that's difficult to watch, and in turn, we immediately want these dudes to get decapitated. Iosef's father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), the mob boss, catches wind of what his son has done and whom he has done it to. Viggo is pissed, and he informs everyone about John Wick's Chuck Norris-like backstory. "He isn't the Boogeyman. He's the guy you send to kill the boogeyman..." he says. Meanwhile, John Wick is out for revenge, and he hasn't even bothered to change his blood-stained t-shirt yet.

The film has a serious set-up, but eventually its bombast musical score and soundtrack blast in, and a certain tone of hilarity, along with some great lines of dialogue make this a downright fun time. John Wick annihilates everyone that comes in his way, and the brilliantly staged action scenes pack more power than the usual stuff. They're personal. It also successfully subverts a major genre rule. The story's enemies don't necessarily hold the power here. They're genuinely scared of John Wick and they're not afraid to admit it. Even the police refrain from asking questions when they show up at John Wick's house one night and see a couple of dead bodies in the foyer. That isn't to say that John Wick doesn't face a share of danger, but we never really doubt his skills.

There are some solid supporting roles. Willem Dafoe plays a crafty sniper. John Leguizamo is only in the film for a couple of minutes, but he makes good use of them. Adrianne Palicki enters the scene as a badass hired assassin. A duo of alumni from "The Wire" (Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters) have some comic relief spots. Michael Nyqvist is a standout as the mob leader, playing it straight-faced while also conveying a major sense of humor. Keanu Reeves is monotone and mostly expressionless, but it works for this character. John Wick's physical actions do all the speaking.

There are probably moments in the film when you'll be thinking, how did he get up from that? But come on... He's John Wick.


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