John Wick review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
John Wick feels like a real comeback for actor Keanu Reeves. This isn’t the movie that will make him more highly recognized for a new iconic role. It’s not the movie that will send him soaring from his previous standing into the A-list status. It probably won’t win any awards or be that highly regarded as the year’s best films. What it is, however, is the sleeper action picture in which Reeves fits like a glove. Essentially, it’s just a darn good action romp that aims to please.
Reeves plays the title character who has just lost his wife to cancer. Turned an emotional wreck, he seeks companionship with a dog who he takes out for drives in his snazzy looking car. But life throws him another brutal curve ball as his house is attacked by Russian gangsters who kill his dog and steal his ‘66 Mustang. Completely broken and mad as hell, Wick breaks open his secret armory to resume his old life of an assassin and get his revenge.
The man who wronged him is Losef, the son of the Russian crime syndicate leader Viggo. This is mighty bad news for Viggo seeing as how Wick once worked for his organization as the unstoppable killer once referred to as Baba Yaga or The Boogeyman (which ever sounds more sinister). Given their history, Viggo attempts to negotiate with Wick, but it’s too late as Viggo’s son has awakened the devil inside. So it’s game on with waves of hitmen against the one-man army.
At this point the movie is pretty much a dizzying array of gunfights and car chases. This traditionally sounds like it would be a dull experience, but each sequence packs a major punch to keep your eyes glued to the screen. John bursts into a nightclub and begins an efficient assault on the hitmen from a crowded dance floor to a cramped lobby. He makes smart and calculated moves, leaving himself just enough time to quickly reload before another round. The car chases are brilliantly staged at night with good looking cars whipping around with guns blazing. And just to keep things interesting Wick has some enemies turned allies in the form of a hit-woman played by Adrianne Palicki and a sniper played by Willem Dafoe.
This is the first film directed by Chad Stahelski who has had a long career in Hollywood with doing stunts. He clearly has an eye and a feel for good looking action scenes that flow incredibly well. The faith he places in holding the camera somewhat steady as Reeves dispatches multiple gunmen in one take is just extraordinary. He’s not afraid to stage some impressive action sequences and let the audiences see all of it. I especially enjoyed how he narrowly avoids the action movie cliches as when Wick and his opponent hide behind a series of pillars between shots. A lesser film would’ve made Wick a little faster or find some way of taking out the pillar. Instead he stealthy makes his way close enough to the enemy’s pillar and shoot the barely open and visible leg of the gunmen. I also appreciated how Wick’s revenge quest has some well-thought plans. He stops by a church which is a front for both money and evidence to blackmail politicians. Wick finds this vault and sets it all aflame without a second thought.
What’s most impressive about this movie is Reeves himself. For what would sound like a routine action picture is elevated by both his acting presence and the quality of the direction. There are some rather poignant moments where he’s given just enough room to show far more than one would think he was capable of. He reads a note from his dead wife and painfully tears up. He shouts in frustration as he smashes concrete with a sledgehammer to reach his secret stash of weapons. Reeves has finally arrived as the macho action badass that can take his spot among Charles Bronson and Liam Neeson. For the first time watching a movie starring Keanu, I was the one staring at the screen with my eyes glazed and my mouth only able to utter “whoa.” John Wick is the action sleeper hit that offers up enough surprises to be a solid bit of gritty entertainment.