John Wick

John Wick’s excellent adventure. Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palicki and Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe star in John Wick.

John WickCast of Characters:
John Wick – Keanu Reeves
Viggo Tarasov – Michael Nyqvist
Iosef Tarasov – Alfie Allen
Ms. Perkins – Adrianne Palicki
Helen Wick – Bridget Moynahan
Avi – Dean Winters
Winston – Ian McShane
Aurelio – John Leguizamo
Marcus – Willem Dafoe

Director – David Leitch & Chad Stahelski
Screenplay – Derek Kolstad
Producer – Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria & Michael Witherill
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use

While grieving over the loss of his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan), John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a retired hitman, receives a puppy from his late wife as a final gift. Following a gas station run-in with a group of thugs, Wick’s home is invaded by those same thugs who take everything that meant so dear to him.

… Oh, no, they didnt. Shit just got real, son!

This would be the part in the trailer where the big booming narrator voice bellows, “… They just fucked with… the wrong dog owner.”

With hardly any marketing push, if even any at all, from Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment, I first heard about John Wick maybe about only a couple weeks ago. That may say something about the little faith the studio has in the film. It’s understandable, considering it ain’t like Keanu Reeves has been tearing it up at the box office over the past decade. That said, I surprisingly enjoyed this film a lot.

To be fair, the plot is extremely simple and cheesy, so you either go all-in with it or you don’t. But co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (a longtime stunt coordinator who worked as Reeve’s stunt double on The Matrix), and writer Derek Kolstad wisely stick to their guns and keep the plot simple. Yes, this is definitely a case of style over substance, but if there’s anything that would’ve hurt this film, it would’ve been throwing in some convoluted third-act surprise to complicate things for the sake of beefing up the narrative. It’s also to the filmmakers credit that, while the film isn’t entirely self-aware, they acknowledge the film’s complete ridiculousness.

Both Leitch and Stahelski come from stunt acting backgrounds and it shows so well here. Unlike last week’s Dracula Untold, which was littered with uninspired action sequences, choppy editing and really murky cinematography, Leitch and Stahelski deliver some brilliantly choreographed action set pieces that rely on long fluid takes, wide shots and sharp editing (one segment set in a nightclub is sure to be a crowd-pleaser). Combined with Jonathan Sela’s cinematography, the two directors have created quite a beautiful looking film.

I said back in my review of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that Keanu Reeves was not a good actor. While I still stand by what I said, I should’ve clarified that Reeves’s problem is that he tends to take on mismatched roles that really expose his flaws as an actor. As much as I love Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula, Reeves was not the right fit for one of the primary protagonists of the story, Jonathan Harker, or even in any other period piece he was in (Dangerous Liaisons and Much Ado About Nothing). However, he has been able to shine in roles that draw out what strengths he does contain such as, obviously, Neo in The Matrix or even in Ron Howard’s Parenthood (a supporting role, mind you, but still one of his best). Reeves is a natural fit here ’cause it mostly doesn’t require much from him other than to kick as many bad guys’ asses as he can. Yes, there’s a moment during the climax where his trademark woodenness has to tackle an angry outburst at the main villain (played with over-the-top enunciating delight by Michael Nyqvist from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy), but it winds up being not as cringe-inducing as you might expect it to be.

Speaking of Nyqvist, he easily wins the best response to finding out why John Wick’s after his men that I’ve heard all this year.

While Adrianne Palicki doesn’t bring much to the table with her femme fatale character (although the fight between her and Reeves is fun and intentionally amusing), and Alfie Allen is a bit of a one-note villain whose accent is all over the place, Reeves does get some dependable back up from a talented supporting cast that includes Nyqvist, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Willem Dafoe. That’s certainly a plus, but Reeves knows his role here and holds his own just as well, giving easily the best work he’s done since The Matrix.

For the record, if you do see the film, yes, that is definitely the “Allstate Mayhem Guy”.

There ain’t a shred of complexity to be found in John Wick, but that actually works to the film’s favor. Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, in their directorial debuts, wisely stick to their strengths by creating a stylish underworld immersed in some first-rate action sequences and stunt work. It’s been awhile since Keanu Reeves landed a role that really felt like a fit for him, but hopefully this bloody good thrill ride gives his career the jump start it’s been needing for years.

I give John Wick a B+ (★★★).

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