Don’t Touch John Wick ‘s Car or Puppy, or You Will Die
Review by Daniel Rester
John Wick finds Keanu Reeves as an ass-kicking ex-hitman who doesn’t say much. Talk about good casting. Let’s face it: Reeves doesn’t have the widest amount of range in terms of showing emotion. However, the actor always has presence and likability on his side, and he is a lot of fun to watch in action mode when it’s done right. John Wick is done right.
The film has Reeves as the title character, who is a retired hitman grieving over the death of his wife. As a last present, she gives him a puppy so that he won’t be lonely. Ahhhhh. But it isn’t long before a group of Russian gangsters mess up by treating Wick’s dog poorly and stealing his car (a beautiful ’69 Mustang). Big mistake.
Wick soon goes after the thieves, who are led by a creep named Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen, who has a young Malcolm McDowell type of look). It turns out that Iosef is the son of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a crime boss from Wick’s past life. This leads to a bloodbath as Wick battles Viggo’s men to get to Iosef.
John Wick is a film that could have easily been terrible if put in the wrong hands. Derek Kolstad’s script has a few witty lines and does a good job at providing a variety of criminal character personalities in brief doses, but the writing also has practically zero character depth and rides on a simple revenge storyline. Such basic material really relies on the strength of the filmmaking, and thankfully director Chad Stahelski was the right pick for the job.
Stahelski, who usually does stunt work, is aided here by David Leitch – another stunt coordinator who also gets co-director credit for John Wick. The two men clearly know their stuff when it comes to the action genre. The film is short, quick, exciting, and violent. It’s also never rendered as either pretentious or too stupid. The filmmakers just have their sites on making a fun and bloody R-rated action flick, and they succeed.
Stahelski and Leitch infuse each scene with a style and slickness that is entertaining without ever being distracting. The use of color, wide shots, smooth close-up tracking shots, and guitar-heavy music all fit excellently with the crazy amount of fighting and gunplay going on. It’s refreshing to get a straight-up hardcore action film that is fluid and doesn’t resort to shaky cam and chopped-up editing in order to try and get a PG-13 rating. One particular scene involving a nightclub provides a lesson in Grade-A action filmmaking, and it’s easily the best scene in the film.
This is the type of film where it looks like the cast is having fun but also making sure that you will have fun too. Reeves is great to watch here with a return-to-form type of performance that recalls his best moments in his films from the 1990s. The actor is loose, charming, and physical here, making Wick a badass who is easy to get behind.
Surrounding Reeves are a bunch of welcome faces with bit parts as car dealers, assassins, etc. They include such people as Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick, and David Patrick Kelly. Everyone does the best with what they have, turning the side characters into lived-in people who make an impact despite having little screen time. Nyqvist and Allen are also effectively slimy as the lead bad guys.
John Wick isn’t a film with layered characters or a complex story (and it does get repetitive in the final stretch), but it makes up for those lacking areas by delivering with atmosphere and breakneck action. An action junkie gets plenty to take in here with hand-to-hand fighting, guns of all kind blazing, cool environments, and fast cars. Plus there is a cute puppy as the cherry on top. John Wick is definitely no groundbreaker, but it serves its purpose well for what it is.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).
MPAA Rating: R (for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use).
Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 24th, 2014.