Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Release: John Wick (2014)

Don't laugh just because it's Reeves.
He plays the hardcore title assassin far
better than you might expect.
Director: David Leitch & Chad Stahelski

A formula you may not realize works: Keanu Reeves + Action Revenge Story = Movie Gold.

I know, I know. That Keanu Reeves. It does actually make sense, if you think about it. One of the great knocks against Reeves has always been his laughably limited range. No matter what character he has been playing, he's never been able to shake his own valley dude monotone and dead black eyes. That's a problem when you're trying to play a Shakespeare character (which he did in Much Ado About Nothing) or a hopelessly romantic sycophant (which he did in Dangerous Liaisons). But if your playing a stone-cold killer who decides to start piling up the bodies, then it's a gift from the gods of cinema carnage, who must have smiled upon Reeves's casting as the title assassin.

And so John Wick gets it right. Taking a page from recent action movie successes like Taken and Dredd, John Wick never tries to out-think itself. It knows exactly what it is - an excuse to watch one mean motor scooter shoot and pummel a bunch of scuzzy gangsters.

The set up is just what it needs to be. Wick's wife has died, and he laments the loss of the woman who pulled him away from his previously bloody life as a mafia hitman (Unforgiven, anyone?). Wick is brought to tears when he receives a surprise delivery of an oh-so-adorable puppy, which was arranged by his wife before she died. The scene is schmaltzy, yes, but it is very effective. We get to see Wick as a guy who does, indeed, have a heart.

And then it all goes south. The pampered son of the local Russian mafia boss, not knowing who Wick is, decides to break into Wick's house, beat him up, kill his dog, and steal his car. When John Wick regains consciousness to see the dog, he loses it. And then the fun begins for us viewers. What follows is a carnival of death. And boy, is it entertaining.

From the fight choreographers to the cinematographers to
Keanu Reeves himself, the action sequences are brilliantly
executed (pun highly intended).
I'm not especially a fan of action movies, especially some of the latest successful ones. Movies in the Jason Bourne series and its imitators are dull to me, for they show little style and make no great impression as to the physical feats that are merely implied rather than explicitly shown. Well John Wick shows it all to you. Never once relying on slow motion or ultra close-up, guerrilla-style cinematography, the lethal ballet that Wick displays is captured splendidly with long, wide shots and sustained sequences without overly choppy cuts or edits. The result is an impact and intensity that few Western action flicks have ever delivered.

Another merit is the element of mythical fantasy in John Wick's world. There's a hotel that caters solely to assassins, and fictional gold coins that serve as the currency of the realm. These things heighten the awareness of us viewers that this story is, indeed, a fantasy, and the writers were clever in their admission of it.

Of course, if nearly non-stop brutality and gun play have zero interest for you, then you won't care how it's dressed up. And truthfully, it was just starting to become a ever-so-slightly tiresome to me as the film neared its conclusion. Blessedly and perhaps ironically, the filmmakers avoid overkill by keeping the movie short and tight. At an efficient 93 minutes, the movie wraps ups just as things threaten to grow stale. I walked out well satisfied and ready to watch the movie again soon.

Action movie junkies will surely love this film. Even those like me who aren't die-hard fans of the genre will likely enjoy it, as long as high body counts and some rather brutal film violence don't put them off too much.