John Wick (dirs. David Leitch & Chad Stahelski)
Though Hollywood does not seem to be paying much attention, Keanu Reeves has been cornering the market on action films recently. Following up on last year’s MAN OF TAI CHI and 47 RONIN comes this week’s release JOHN WICK. It may be just a mindless shoot ‘em up action film, but hot damn it is really fun to watch.
The premise of the film is a simple one. John Wick’s wife has recently passed away. He (Reeves, naturally) is heartbroken, though before he begins to imagine his life alone she sends him a gift. She died of a long and painful illness and arranged for John to be posthumously sent a puppy for company. In the sweet hand-written note she says that John needs to love something and to be loved and his car does not count. It is really cute to watch the mourning John bond with this tiny and amazingly adorable beagle puppy. It is obvious that he loved his wife very much, and based on his instant attachment to the dog it is apparent that she knew John well enough to anticipate his needs in this rough time.
Unfortunately John’s road to emotional recovery is a short one. When a Russian gangster’s son tries to buy John’s car from him at the gas station John’s life begins a tailspin. Refusing to sell him the car, the son finds John’s home and visits in the middle of the night. This spoiled gangster wannabe has his henchmen beat John, steal the car, and he personally kills the sweet baby puppy. Thankfully the film does not focus too much on the violence against the animal or in John’s disposal of it. What the film smartly does is turn its attention to John’s revenge.
John is no ordinary widower. His reputation precedes him wherever he goes, and with it comes bad omens. John used to be involved in the violent underworld of gangsters and hit man, and with his next mark he has decided to come out of retirement
The rest of the film is a predictable but excellently executed mix of hand to hand combat and bullets flying while the body count piles up. Each new fight scene is perfectly matched in tone with the set, lighting, music, and occasionally weather. The fights are all shot in wider angles so that the action is easy to follow, and you are never left wondering who just got shot by whom. In this regard the film almost feels like a video game; John must kill all of the gangsters in each venue before he is allowed to move to the next.
One delightful surprise in the film was the creation of the hit man subculture. When John rejoins his old profession it is clear that he was as deep into the criminal underworld as you can imagine. When he reenters this world he takes us on a journey to a hotel where everyone pays in gold coins and everyone is a gun for hire. They have rules and etiquette, and a fascinating loaded history amongst the members. As I was leaving the screening I heard some murmurings that the film should have featured more of the hit man domain. While I concede that it is absolutely the most interesting part of the film, I loved that we did not learn all of the secrets of this world. Hinting at the expansive underbelly was much more fun than spoiling all of its details.
This is not the type of film that makes you ponder life. The film also has all of the typical shortcomings of early Bond films in terms of the lack of logic in the plot. If you leave the film wondering why the Russian gangsters don’t just shoot John when they have the chance then you are missing the point. You go to e Keanu Reeves action film to watch the blood flow like wine and the bullets fall like snowflakes, and JOHN WICK absolutely delivers this. Asses are kicked and fun is had- What more can you hope for?