tue 18/06/2024

John Wick | reviews, news & interviews

John Wick

John Wick

Keanu Reeves is flanked by HBO's finest in this impressive actioner

'A man who you simply do not mess with': Keanu Reeves is 'John Wick'

This shrewdly assembled, often near-monochrome actioner injects pathos from the off and mirrors the melancholic outlook of its grief-ravaged protagonist, played by Keanu Reeves, who dials down the befuddlement and proves rather endearing. Directed by stuntmen Chad Stahelski and (an uncredited) David Leitch, it's a lovingly crafted, pleasingly characterful effort that delivers impactful, imaginatively executed thrills.

Even if you're not an animal lover, John Wick has a crafty way of pulling at the heart strings, demonstrating a simultaneous flair for manipulation and restraint. It opens with the aftermath of a violent confrontation, introducing a possibly fatally injured Wick (Reeves), before flashing back to show his quiet devastation after the death of his terminally ill wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan), who's bequeathed him a puppy (pictured below right) in an effort to help him learn to love again. It's as cheesy as it sounds but oddly affecting; the gently played early scenes where this gruff, emotionally exhausted man tentatively bonds with the irrepressibly affectionate, personable animal are lovely.

Enter that pesky Alfie Allen as Iosef Tarasov, the preening, brash and entitled son of Russian gangster and Wick's ex-employer Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who takes a shine to Wick's sweet-ride and ensures that this man/dog love story is not to be. When Wick refuses to sell him his Mustang Iosef rocks up at his house under cover of night, steals the car and the puppy becomes collateral damage. With a life of dedicated pet ownership off the agenda, Wick is unmasked as a man who you simply do not mess with. Says a despairing Viggo at the news that his idiot son has stirred up a one-man hornets' nest, "He's the one you send to kill the fucking boogeyman."

And so America's finest hit-men and women are dispatched to take Wick out, including Perkins (Adrianne Palicki, pictured below left) and Marcus (Willem Dafoe). They converge on a hotel for assassins – a seemingly preposterous touch that turns out to be a lot of fun; it's owned by Ian McShane's menacing but fair Winston, and run by Lance Reddick's uber-professional Charon. If these Deadwood and The Wire alumni weren't enough, the cast is beautifully filled out by even more of HBO's finest, including Clarke Peters (Treme, The Wire) and Dean Winters (Oz).

Reeves' trademark spartan acting style remains in check but age has given him a gravitas that was previously beyond reach; he's adept at communicating an all-consuming sadness and is as lithe and capable as ever in the action scenes. The moody aesthetic (fine work from DP Jonathan Sela) fits with Wick's loner status and slick sartorial style, while the set-pieces are fluidly captured and for the most part distinctly visible, with John Wick rarely suffering from the frenetic over-editing ("fucking the frame" as Michael Bay charmingly puts it) or incoherent motion that plagues similar films.

Caring about the central character from the outset sustains interest and increases jeopardy and John Wick rarely overplays its hand. It knows it's not going to compete with, say, Quentin Tarantino for snappy dialogue and situational flair, so doesn't try to. And there's a surprising show of discipline to even the camper moments. The dialogue is stripped-back and thrifty, with the high-calibre cast left to imbue it with humour, menace, whatever (a simple "Oh" from the fabulous Nyqvist, for example, is one of the funniest moments), and the film boasts an understated knowingness, instead of crudely winking at us throughout. Sleek and confident, John Wick doesn't reinvent the wheel but it has the good sense to fit a fresh set of tyres.


It rarely suffers from the frenetic over-editing or incoherent motion that plagues similar films.


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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