Directors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski Actors: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters Writer: Derek Kolstad Rating: 14A Runtime: 101 min
A straightforward action-revenge movie can be a lot of fun to watch. When an individual is inflicting violence with a sense of justice, moviegoers are able to convince themselves that the bad guys are simply receiving their just desserts and become caught up in the excitement. John Wick, from duel directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, does not boast a complicated or twisty plot. This fast-paced film is simple yet stylish, with a dose of silliness thrown in as well, and allows its main actor to thrive in the type of role in which he excels.
Keanu Reeves stars as the titular John Wick, a former hit man who comes out of retirement when a gang of Russian thugs do to him the worst thing possible: steal his car and kill his dog. Little do these gangsters know that said dog was actually a gift to him from John’s recently deceased wife, leading him on a bullet-ridden quest for revenge. Formerly known as “The Boogeyman” and greatly feared by those in his business, John has the lethal skills he needs in order to achieve his goal, and the tragic motives to fuel him.
John Wick is a stylish and atmospheric take on the assassin genre, shot in gloomy shadows to reflect the mood of its protagonist. Reeves thrives in the tortured action antihero role, appearing slick and ominous in equal measures and saying very little because very little needs to be said. The film does well to open with John grieving over the loss of his wife, and although some may consider it sappy or contrived, this beginning establishes a human side to an individual who turns out to be a relentless killer. The brutality in John is only awakened after his final tie to his wife is senselessly severed, and he quickly becomes an easy antihero to root for.
At the directorial helm is Chad Stahelski, a former stunt double who clearly learned a lot by observing the workings behind the scenes. The action in this film is relentless, and is cleanly shot with a steady hand as opposed to the shaky camera often used in this genre. This technique, along with pounding rock music and dark lighting, adds to the work’s stylish feel. Although the film offers up plenty of violence, it does not feel gratuitous, and it is made clear that although John is exceptionally good at what he does, he does not do it for pleasure. That does not stop the audience from enjoying watching him, however, and a bit of humour in the appropriately sparse dialogue only adds to the fun. I did find the film to go on a bit too long, and rolled my eyes at the obligatory club-scene shootout with the lingering shots of scantily clad women, but these flaws are minor in the overall work.
There is a time and a place for complex and nuanced action movies, and another one entirely for bloody, pulpy fun. John Wick may be more focused on style than substance, yet a complicated plot is hardly needed to set up the action here. Shrouded in mystery, John makes for a compelling action hero due to the athletic talents of Keanu Reeves and the emotion with which he is introduced. Breathlessly over-the-top and relentless, none of the characters on screen may be having a good time, but there can be no doubt that the audience is.