John Wick (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Fantastic Fest. For more information on the festival visit fantasticfest.com and follow Fantastic Fest on Twitter at @fantasticfest.
John Wick is a refreshing take on a familiar story. The film opens with a broken John Wick (Keanu Reeves) after the loss of his wife due to illness. To help him cope with his loss, her final gift is a puppy to keep him company. The opening fifteen minutes are largely unspoken. The audience learns that Wick is a cold man with little regard for the dog at first. He drives a kickass ’69 Ford Mustang and eventually warms up to his dog. Wick’s path crosses that of Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), a pampered son of a Russian crime lord, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). When Wick declines Tarasov’s offer to purchase his Mustang, Tarasov and his goons assault Wick in his home - kill his dog and steal his Mustang. Viggo tells his son that John Wick is, “The man you hire to kill the Boogeyman.” If he can strike fear into the heart of a Russian crime lord, you know he’s a badass! With the foundation in place, Wick embarks on his nasty path of revenge.
What separates John Wick from other action films of this type is the world building involved. Wick checks into “The Continental,” a hotel that houses assassins. It serves as a neutral zone where criminals can lay low, rest, and maybe even see a doctor. Winston (Ian McShane) is the owner of The Continental. This society of assassins uses uniquely designed gold coins as currency. When checking in to the room, each guest pays in gold coins. A full-length film could be produced on The Continental alone. There are rules that make the deadly hotel relatively safe but you know what they say about rules.
Director Chad Stahelski goes balls to the wall, earning John Wick a coveted hard R. John Woo and Michael Mann heavily influence this film. Woo for the action and violence, Mann for the style. It’s a wonderful homage that will sit nicely with die-hard action fans.
The action is the heart and soul of this film. When dispatching henchmen, Wick makes no mistake. He borders on cruel when he shoots a bad guy in the leg, uses him as a human shield while shooting other bad guys in the face, then finishing his first victim with a couple of shots to the dome. Director Chad Stahelski goes balls to the wall, earning John Wick a coveted hard R. John Woo and Michael Mann heavily influence this film. Woo for the action and violence, Mann for the style. It’s a wonderful homage that will sit nicely with die-hard action fans. Stahelski puts enough of his own ingredients in John Wick to give him a unique pot of wicked fun.
In a sense, this film goes against the grain. This isn’t the only film to put the hero through the grinder where he suffers many injuries and gets into vulnerable situations. This isn’t the only film to put a female in a position of power to trade blows with the hero — John Wick combines these elements to address areas that are lacking in other action films. These elements do not feel thrown in for the sake of it. Jenny (Adrianne Palicki) is a well-developed character and it’s a delight to watch her trade blows with Wick. I applaud the willingness to include so much violence when the current trend sways toward getting a PG-13 rating.
Cinematographer Jonathan Sela does a tremendous job of shooting the action. The action is easy to follow and the images are jaw dropping. It’s like poetry watching Wick get into a “Collateral” style gunfight inside a nightclub.
Cinematographer Jonathan Sela does a tremendous job of shooting the action. The action is easy to follow and the images are jaw dropping. It’s like poetry watching Wick get into a “Collateral” style gunfight inside a nightclub. Tyler Bates who is quickly becoming a favorite composer of mine scores the film. The sound mix is loud and aggressive. When bones are breaking, brains exploding and cars are smashing, the sound mix is sweet punishment to the eardrums. John Wick gets everything so right.
The ensemble cast includes John Lequizamo, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Dean Winters and David Patrick Kelly to name a few. Each actor is fully utilized and they are provided with meaty dialogue to work with. It feels like every 15 minutes a familiar face pops up. Luckily these cameos add to the formula rather than distract.
John Wick is made for action lovers. If you grew up watching early John Woo films this one is right up your alley. It’s clear that everyone involved committed to delivering a gritty action film that will satisfy action lovers craving a hard R flick. There are few things to nitpick in this film. The plot is straightforward, the pacing is on the nose and the kills are wicked. John Wick is the kind of film that’s best enjoyed with a crowd; let’s hope this draws a crowd so everyone can collectively enjoy the film.
John Wick is made for action lovers. If you grew up watching early John Woo films this one is right up your alley.