Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Movie Review: John Wick

John Wick
Directed by: David Leitch & Chad Stahelski.
Written by: Derek Kolstad.
Starring: Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), Alfie Allen (Iosef Tarasov), Willem Dafoe (Marcus), Dean Winters (Avi), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Omer Barnea (Gregori), Toby Leonard Moore (Victor), Daniel Bernhardt (Kirill), Bridget Moynahan (Helen), John Leguizamo (Aureilo), Ian McShane (Winston), Bridget Regan (Addy), Lance Reddick (Hotel Manager / Charon).

American action movies have, unfortunately, become all about rapid fire editing, and shaky handheld camera work that emphasis visceral energy over coherence. If you are a director like Paul Greengrass, or Michael Bay on his best day, than this can actually be effective. But most directors don’t seem to know how to use this style well – so what happens in the action sequences is that become so tightly editing that everything becomes confusing to me – I have no idea what is really going on. I have always preferred Hong Kong style action – the type of thing practiced by John Woo in the 1980s and 1990s, or which Johnnie To does now. Even if Woo and To have a lot of differences in their style, the one thing they do share is that they let action sequences play out at length – they don’t favor the rapid fire editing to create false suspense or energy. The best thing about John Wick is that first time directors - David Leitch & Chad Stahelski  - allow the action sequences to play out a little bit longer than most action movies made in America today. The action in the movie is clean, crisp, bold and genuinely exciting.

The plot of the movie is typical revenge movie stuff. The newly widowed title character (Keanu Reeves) is grieving for his beloved wife, when the doorbell rings – and a dog is delivered – a last gift from his wife. The dog isn’t around very long though – the spoiled son of a Russian mobster wants Wick’s car – but he will not sell, so he and his goons visit Wick, steal the car, and kill the dog. What this spoiled brat doesn’t know is who Wick was in his former life – the deadliest assassin who ever worked for his father (Michael Nyqvist). Now, of course, Wick wants vengeance – and the Russian mob boss will stop at nothing to protect his son.

In broad strokes, there is not much difference between the story of John Wick and that of a film like Taken (or its sequel). I wasn’t a fan of either of the Taken movies – mainly because they were they were ridiculous, but took themselves way too seriously. That is a mistake that John Wick doesn’t make – the directors know they are making a goofy revenge action film from the start, and they never pretend otherwise. Reeves also knows this, and he rips into his role with a certain grim glee (if that makes any sense), relishing his violent action sequences, which he is expert at. The two directors of the film have mainly been stuntmen in the past – and they certainly want to show off what they are best at – and the hand-to-hand combat and gunfight scenes are probably the best I have seen in a movie this year. The rest of the cast get on the same wavelength of Reeves, and have a blast with their roles.

There is nothing original about John Wick – but there really doesn’t have to be. It knows precisely what it is, and goes for broke from the first scene to the last. It’s a hell of good time at the movies – a guilty pleasure to be sure, but a great one at that.

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