UK Release Date: 10th April 2015
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo
Synopsis: When a group of thugs steal his car and murder his dog, an assassin comes out of retirement to wreak his brutal, murderous revenge.
The career of Keanu Reeves is an odd one. He is a performer who has experienced remarkable success despite regularly attracting poor reviews, such as for his recent samurai snoozefest 47 Ronin. However, in the shape of the eponymous retired assassin in punchy action movie John Wick, Reeves finally seems to have recaptured his Matrix mojo.
John Wick (Reeves) is trying to escape the business of killing, mourning his deceased wife. One day, thug Iosef (Alfie Allen) takes a shine to Wick’s car, later breaking into house to steal the car, killing Wick’s dog in the process. He is blissfully unaware of Wick’s dangerous identity. However, when Iosef brings the car back to his mob boss father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), he discovers that Wick is a vicious assassin, now seeking revenge.
In John Wick, Reeves has found a role that suits his skill set perfectly. His inherent lack of charisma is an asset in playing the taciturn killer at the heart of this film. This is a man devoid of compassion, capable only of clicking his murderous instincts into action. Reeves completely embodies the character and is clearly at home within the film’s murky world in which everyone’s morals are threateningly elastic.
| "John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He’s the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman."
It’s that murky world of criminality that elevates John Wick shoulder high, above the generic action movie ranks. Writer Derek Kolstad has created an intriguing world in which law enforcement officers are content to let the machinations of the underworld slide by and there’s a specific hotel in which the execution of “business” is forbidden.
A sequel to John Wick has already been announced, which should maximise the potential of that world and spotlight characters who missed out in this first film. Ian McShane’s fiercely rule-abiding hotel owner and Adrianne Palicki’s money-hungry gunwoman are far too interesting not to warrant further study in a follow-up film. This film keeps it simple and Wick-focused, but there’s a real richness to the universe.
The unique aesthetic of John Wick is a result of some unique direction from debut duo Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Stahelski was Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix and both men have an extensive background in the world of stunts, which manifests here with the kind of balletic action Gareth Evans would be proud of. There’s very little in the way of Tarantino splatter, but every punch feels brutal and some of the point-blank gunplay is wince-inducingly violent in the best possible way.
| "You can either hand over your son, or you can die screaming next to him!"
It’s also a world in which there are no good guys. The audience is placed squarely on Wick’s side, but the people he seeks revenge upon are no more immoral than he is. Michael Nyqvist stands out as a self-assured boss, whilst Alfie Allen channels his pathetic Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones as a sn0t-nosed lad sponging off the work of his father.
John Wick is one of the most purely enjoyable films of 2015. It’s a fist-pumping burst of energy that makes the most of its refreshingly slender 100 minutes to deliver an adrenaline shot – not just to the audience, but to action cinema itself.
Pop or Poop?
In a world in which action movie heroes are either bruising musclemen or ageing Oscar-winners, John Wick is a refreshing blast of kinetic brutality.
Keanu Reeves finds his niche, Michael Nyqvist drips villainy and the world is populated by a handful of intriguing supporting players.
With a pair of visionary filmmakers at the helm and a star in the form of his life, John Wick is a textbook example of how to kick-start an action franchise.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.