Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
John Wick is probably the kind of action flick nobody will expect anything out of. From the look of its first trailer, it definitely manages to tick all the boxes on being the most generic Hollywood B-actioner possible, with the only notable addition being Keanu “Neo” Reeves (the Matrix trilogy), who’s unfortunately almost fresh off the disappointing 47 Ronin.
Additionally, taking a peek into the credits, one realises that the director of this film – Chad Stahelski – has been a stunt coordinator in a major set of films including the likes of The Hunger Games and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. While this is great for his repertoire, let’s remind ourselves that only earlier this year, we as an audience have seen one of the most atrocious films ever directed this year in the form of the Nicholas Cage starrer Left Behind, whose director Vic Armstrong has also been an absolutely credible stunt coordinator.
The audience, thus, doesn’t have too much to expect of this film though. Add to this the conflict point of the film being the avenging of a dead dog, and you’re further in doubt on whether this is Reeves making yet another ridiculous film choice post his last.
But then again, we as an audience need to remind ourselves that the guy’s been in The Matrix. Add to that his credible filmography in the form of Speed, A Scanner Darkly, The Lake House, and more recently his directorial debut in the form of the viscerally popcorn-worthy Man of Tai Chi, and you’ve got yourself finding at the least an inkling of a reason to give the guy (and inadvertently the film) a chance.
You… you should, shouldn’t you?
What’s it About?
After the death of his wife from an untold terminal illness, John Wick (Reeves) receives his last gift of hope – a cute little dog – designated to help him move on. But before he knows what happens, his car’s stolen and his dog’s brutally murdered.
Of course, what the people who rob him thinking he’s just a “nobody” are in for a terribly unpleasant surprise when they find out that they’ve just decided to write in their own deaths, and it’s just a matter of time before the inevitable happens!
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Let’s all agree on one thing – the story is quite the unoriginal concept that it is – and from the looks of it, it’s quite the attractive direct-to-home-video B-movie clincher that its now known contenders Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme are now famous for. But here’s the very interesting twist in the proceedings: Derek Kolstad manages to weave in some interesting narrative and attention-to-detail in the proceedings. Wick’s character graph receives a credible setup and the world around him has a cool, almost mysterious set of kinks to it. If you don’t believe me, believe the mysterious gold coin – the exclusive currency of the underworld – which is a major part of the film. The way it was so convincingly used almost literally blew my mind.
Kolstad, whose last film The Package hit rock bottom, manages to get respite with his writing here, coupled additionally with Stahelski’s surprisingly proficient direction. Johathan Sela’s (Max Payne) deliciously striking cinematography is filled with neat framing and super dramatic lighting, allowing for the movement of the collaborative camerawork to be enhanced by the very noir-ish color grading. Additionally, Stahelski’s thorough experience as a stunt coordinator most definitely helps, as the film consists of some of the most amazingly executed, viscerally swift and stylish action sequences, which appears in quick succession and doesn’t stop. Before the mayhem begins, however, there’s a justifiable slow patch to build up John’s loss. This might be a bit of a downer for the audience expecting nothing but a whole consecutive set of action set-pieces back to back.
Speaking of action, the action set-pieces are superiorly directed, allowing for the cinematography to act as an amazing enhancement to these sequences, giving it a fantastic stylistic edge. Considering Sela’s involvement with actioners slightly bigger in scope, however, this is a contrastingly low-key, slow-burn movie, which he takes advantage of highly, adding in an intelligently paced set of elements of mystery and tension. A particular action set-piece set in a nightclub is bound to set action-movie buffs into a whole new frenzy. In fact, such is every action set-piece that you’re pretty much sucked into the world and are filled with tension abound.
The edit is neat, finding itself having fun with the pacing a lot. It’s a very tightly knit film, but apart from the first fifteen-odd minutes, Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (Contraband) sets in such a breathless pace that event-after-event you’re begging for more. The graph from slow to fast is smooth, however, so you’re not made to feel like the film is inconsistent by any means. Production design is slick, which definitely suits the movie’s hyper-stylized look and feel. The music by Tyler Bates (Watchmen) and Joel Richard effectively enhances the retro-flavored movie type and brings the film and it’s relentless action to life.
The movie – of course – is filled with gripe-inducing issues. The eventual antagonists didn’t really need to be Russian, did they? The eventual reuse of this plot device and the kind of weird stereotyping this film suffers from ultimately feels highly tired and unoriginal. The climactic-battle set piece is quite the exciting one, but the culmination is too convenient for its own good. What makes up for it is that most of the film is so convincing in spite of its issues that one doesn’t give a single damn. The movie ultimately sharply serves its purpose of being a super-stylish action thriller filled with the right doses of badassery and cool one-liners apart from the dizzying collage of neatly choreographed action sequences that make one positively reminiscent of movies of this genre in the seventies and eighties. The Guest – the other relatively superior-in-content release of this year – was another film that decisively used the eighties to create a self-aware action-horror combo, and it’s real nice that more and more directors of today are getting to understand that action is about going old-school and inviting the audience to get highly involved in its atmospheric setting relative to the hyperkinetic stylistic element that loads of action thrillers of today take up.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Keanu Reeves could most probably have been the only one imaginable in this role. It’s kinda true that there’s lots of people for whom the role type would be extremely suitable. We’ve got to agree, however, that the kind of swagger and cool Reeves generates brings within his own understated limits ramps up the cool in the role to a very large extent. Donning an obviously self-aware role, Reeves is absolute fun to watch, whether he’s spouting those classic one-liners or plain shooting ‘em up. Willem Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel) brings in that additional “cool” that the action film needs, his character being the no-nonsense, silent-helper type. With the first half having less of him, as the movie makes progress, the viewers will find him progressively likable. Adrianne Palicki (G. I. Joe: Retaliation) is great fun to watch, and it’s quite apparent she’s having fun donning her role in the film too. Bridget Moynahan (Ramona and Beezus) in a very short role is warm and does what she set out to do successfully enough. Michael Nyqvist (the Swedish original Millennium trilogy) plays a fairly stereotypical character, but is a dynamic presence and hits bullseye with his unpretentious humor. Alfie Allen (television’s Game of Thrones) is plain annoying. But that’s what the character he plays is, so that wraps it up quite nicely. John Leguizamo (Chef) pitches in a sincere one in yet another short one, and he’s a fairly likable presence. Others lend efficient performances.
Ultimately, John Wick is a film that knows exactly what’s it out for: to provide the viewers with a helluva time. and the great thing is Stahelski succeeds highly in directing a credibly entertaining film that’s supported by fantastic action and Keanu Reeves in a role that drips of so much cool it’s almost insane. Filled with an underworld that receives quite some witty attention-to-detail and some fantastically lit set-pieces (the nightclub), the movie surprisingly majorly overcomes its generic plot rehashes and other gripes with an execution that is insanely engaging, making it very strong in entertainment value. Goes to prove that you don’t necessarily need a huge budget to impress viewers if you’re sincere enough.
Recommended for that big-screen watch (maybe two).
Star Rating: 4 / 5
PS: David Leitch, also credited as the director along with Stahelski in major movie portals, is strangely uncredited in almost all the promotional material and the film for some absolutely undecipherable reason. If there’s anyone who can clarify this for me, I’d be mighty happy.