John Wick is an American action thriller film that was released on October 24th in the US, but still has no release date for the UK. When it does come out this side of the pond, I’d recommend UK film viewers to watch it, especially if you’re a fan of the action movie genre.
There are plenty of action-gun-shootup thrillers on the market, and these are usually dominated by names such as Jason Statham et al. John Wick is (admittedly to my surprise), actually a smart addition to this genre, and one which I’m keen to see again. If Keanu Reeves was ever looking for a vehicle to display how he should once more embraced by the big names and not be permanently relegated to dismissible fare, it’s this.
When we first see John it’s as he’s mourning the loss of his wife that has recently died. So far, so normal. One day a dog is delivered to him (do dogs get delivered to houses these days? who knew?), and he finds out it’s a last present left to him from his wife. She wants him to find love and hope again despite her death. John drives an old 1969 Mustang and soon enough he becomes attached to the dog. It’s a sequence featuring very little words, but masterfully done. Against the grey tones of the house, the little beagle puppy is the pop of life that John needs. It’s frankly adorable.
Whilst he’s out driving his car one day he’s spotted by a young kid named Iosef who wants to buy it off him. He says no. Some time later in the night his beaten, his car stolen… and his puppy killed. This sets off the rest of the film, where learn who John Wick really is. The premise might sound ludicrous, but it’s a lot more than that. In many action films it’s easy to get bored, almost desensitised with the rhythmic shooting and corny catchphrases. John Wick isn’t short of those: “I think I might be returning!” he shouts. It’s not quite convincing, but at least he makes it sound like it could be true. No, John Wick is the kind of film where you get caught up and want to find out what happens – there’s no fast forwarding here. Of course scenarios get set up for action to happen, but even the brief moments with Daniel Defoe in make for slick storytelling.
The laughs and jokes are short but fun, and the supporting turns from David Patrick Kelly, Adrianne Palicki and Ian MacShane are both the most fun but the most intriguing. They help to flesh out an underground world of crime and assassination that is not only ripe for sequels, but also for sequels beyond Keanu’s character.
The action in the film is strictly gun or hand to hand western style combat (complete with a bit of sniper action too – my favourite), so those expecting more of a martial arts style would be disappointed. John Wick isn’t particularly fast paced but in this case I say this works to its credit: this gives the moments that need time a good amount, allows for the humour to have its pace, and most importantly doesn’t bog the film down in a video game feel. The dialogue is sparse, there’s not more than there needs to be and this is coupled with smart direction that helps to flesh out the scene. Near the beginning there is a particularly funny moment with a police officer that offers some insight into how John might have lived his life in peace with his wife for so long given his past.
Whilst at first the death of the dog might seem like a needless plot device, I’d give credit to the main star here: Keanu Reeves. Without words he gives his character gravitas that makes John Wick more than just a dog revenge film, but I’d also say that it stops the film from taking itself too seriously. It’s not a perfect action film by any means, but it is one that reminds us why the action genre is worth watching. The film is fun, well acted and creates an intriguing world far bigger than itself. At it’s core, John Wick is basically a film about one man trying to find his peace, and flipping his shit when his one link to that is cruelly (it is a very cruel scene – I may have whimpered a little) taken away from him. You can’t say fairer than that.