Monday, 23 March 2015

Review: John Wick

2015 Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki

John Wick is a good old fashioned, straight to the point action film about a retired hitman (Keanu Reeves) trying to leave his violent past behind him. After escaping the violent lifestyle following the the death of his wife, John attempts to settle back into normal life. After paying his last respects to his late wife a beagle puppy arrives at his home, it is a gift from his wife and a reminder to never lose hope no matter what life throws at him. John forms a great relationship with the puppy and looks to be finally dealing with his grief, but the past always finds a way of crawling back.
Trouble comes knocking when an altercation with a man wanting to buy his car takes a turn for the worse. It is learned the man is the son of a very powerful Russian gangster living in New York. That same evening the son and his gang invade John's home, viciously beat him and fatally injure his puppy.
This remorseless act of aggression awakens the demons of John's violent past and he sets off on a revenge mission.

What comes next is 90 minutes of shooting, martial arts, car chases and a fair few twists and turns to boot. I really admired the way the film took alot of care when it introduced the audience to John. None of the emotions and grief Keanu portrayed seemed forced and I was surprisingly touched by the gentle sadness of some of the opening scenes. I cared for this character from the outset and found myself rooting for him right through to finale.
Willem Dafoe did a nice job of playing another Assassin and acquaintance of John's. The main villain offered him a money to kill John and the way he went back and forth on the decision kept the audience guessing for the most part.

A running joke throughout the film was that the name John Wick was so legendary and struck fear into the hearts of so many, criminals and civilians alike that most people wouldn't dare take him on. While this provided comic relief through most of the violence it was also the film's biggest weakness. John's character was built up so much and he dispatched his enemies with such ease that the level of threat was reduced significantly. At no point in the film did I ever feel like he was ever in any real danger, even when the villain had him at his mercy you just knew our hero would pull through.

Apart from the fantastic performances by Reeves the action was the centrepiece of this film, more so the way it was filmed. John didn't just simply shoot people, he did it in perfectly choreographed style. He would link 3 or more kills together with gambols, martial arts, disarms, everything just flowed in what some may call 'gun ballet'. It was this attention to detail that set the film slightly ahead of regular meat headed action flicks. Everytime the action changed setting, John's home, a nightclub, the murky streets of New York, I was just waiting to see how he would use the environment to pull off these stylistic displays of slaughter. The only slight gripe I had was while these sequences were a thrill to watch, they were way too frequent. Now I may sound like im complaining about too much of a good thing here but there are only so many ways you can shoot somebody in the head and this film used them all.
I have to give the film credit for its rather above average CGI blood splats though, they almost looked like practical effects and did a good job of keep the action believable.
The pacing was near perfect and there were no silly reasons as to where our hero went or what he did. Everything fitted the story and blended together nicely.

The Verdict

John Wick is a great old school action film, Keanu Reeves's performance elevates it to levels above the average. Flashy action sequences and brilliantly choreographed fight scenes are a treat for the eyes and ears. I just wish the film didn't play it so safe, there were opportunities to do even more interesting scenes and flesh out key characters but it stuck firmly to a tried and tested formula. The film lacked a sense of true peril, grit and while flashy, felt rather clinical. John Wick comes out shooting, but sometimes just misses it's mark.