The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>John Wick</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - John Wick

A former hitman seeks revenge against the gangster who stole his car and killed his dog.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick

When a movie takes its title from the name of its lead character (and said character isn't a real life notable figure), that's usually a sign of creative laziness. In the case of John Wick it's entirely justified and wholly appropriate. The title character, a retired enforcer for the Russian mob played by Keanu Reeves, is a legend in the world conjured up by Derek Kolstad's script. The mere mention of his name sends shivers down the spines of the toughest generic Russian mobsters, and he's treated with respect by those on opposing sides of the law.
Wick has just left the crime business following the death of his wife from an unnamed illness. Distraught in her absence, a ray of light enters Wick's life when he receives delivery of Daisy, an impossibly cute puppy, accompanied by a note penned by his wife before her passing. As his late wife jokes from beyond the grave, Wick now has two things to care for, the other being his beloved car, a '69 Mustang. While filling his pride and joy at a gas station, Russian hood Iosef (Allen) offers to buy the car, but Wick insists its not for sale. That night, Iosef and his central casting thug mates break into Wick's house, beating him unconcious, stealing his car, and killing his puppy (the bastards!). Wick breaks his vow to reject his past life of violence and sets off on a path of bloody vengeance.
The setup of John Wick is as generic as they come, one torn straight out of the old school exploitation filmmaking rule book. But the movie knows this, and runs with it, thankfully without ever winking at the audience to let us know how ironic it's being in telling such a straight up tale. Like most action movies, it exists simply to take us from one bone crunching set-piece to another, and does so in considerable style. Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch deliver some beautifully staged and choreographed fight scenes, despite the physical limitations of their leading man. Reeves is no Jackie Chan, so Stahelski and Leitch assign him a series of simple movements, which when complimented by some effective but unshowy camerawork, create the impression that Reeves is an ass-kickin' Astaire. Most filmmakers might take the lazy option of using quick cuts to cover their leading man's lack of martial arts prowess, but John Wick's fights play out in lengthy wide shots, allowing us to take in and admire the action. Compare this to how James Wan filmed scenes involving skilled fighters Tony Jaa and Rhonda Rousey in Fast & Furious 7. Well, there is no comparison.
John Wick owes much to the action movies of Walter Hill, particularly those that seemed to be set in some alternate, exaggerated version of an American metropolis. Like Streets of Fire and The Warriors, a cartoonish world is created and fleshed out here in detail. There's a hotel frequented by hitmen (and indeed hitwomen) that operates a strict 'no business on the premises' code; a cleanup service that specialises in mopping up the messes created by such assassins; and the city itself, awash in glorious neon and rain, feels like it was created from scratch for the movie.
Beyond its surface sheen and the thrill of its action, the movie doesn't give us a whole lot to invest in. It sets the bar low, but unlike many of its peers, it does at least clear it. Like the brand of paint it almost shares its title with, John Wick does exactly what it says on the tin. Too few modern action movies do.