John Wick is exactly the bullet to the face that the American action picture desperately needed. There’s nothing remotely new to the mostly predictable narrative of this film and that’s totally fine – it’s just lean, mean, and very, very effective. Obviously inspired by the blood ballet that is The Raid and The Raid 2 and John Woo films from the 1990’s, first-time directors (and veteran stunt coordinators) Chad Stahelski and David Leitch shot their impressively staged action scenes with a stylish, confident hand, emphasizing long takes with a static camera, letting the ammo fly all over the room, and ramping up the body count to obscene, old-school-Schwarzenegger levels. I had an absolute blast watching this totally kick-ass action film, and if it loses some overall points in the way of originality, there’s something to be said for a lower-budgeted Hollywood actioner such as this that returns the R-rated action film to some form of glory.
There’s nothing complicated about John Wick, but that’s sort of what I loved about it, as it appeals to your primal levels in an immediate, visceral, and universal way. A stoic assassin (Keanu Reeves, well cast) goes for the straight life after years of loyal and lethal service to his Russian boss because he’s finally found the woman worth retiring for. She then gets cancer, quickly dies, and leaves him a farewell present: A beautiful puppy. After the gangster son of Wick’s ex-employer unwittingly roughs up Wick, steals his treasured car, trashes his house, and kills his dog, what’s an ex-contract killer to do than take out ALL of the trash?
And that he does – people are sliced, diced, shot repeatedly, thrown across the room and over ledges, and used as general battering rams against all sorts of sharp objects. The Gareth Evans effect is in total display here, as Stahelski and Leitch go for broke with their wild yet coherent action scenes, letting the bad guys have it at all times, always trying to up the ante from scene to scene. And honestly – if you’re not down for seeing an animal abusing scum bag and a slew of his henchmen get what they deserve – well, this isn’t the movie for you, and you need to check your priorities. PETA should use this film as their calling card from here on out. I fucking LOVED this piece of simple minded action cinema.
Review by Nick Clement