There’s nothing better than a movie going surprise. When I saw the trailer for John Wick, I thought that it looked like an awful film. A cheesy, poorly acted mess that was going to be panned universally. Then I saw the Rotten Tomatoes scores it was receiving, and that critics loved it (currently sitting at 85% on the Tomatometer). But I still didn’t believe it. However, this unexpected result compelled me to go see it, and boy am I glad it did.
John Wick is yet another independent movie for Keanu Reeves. He’s been in the directing chair recently himself, and has acted in a number of other successful independent’s. He’s quoted recently as saying that he wishes he could get some more studio films too, and perhaps this role in John Wick might be the one that helps set that up. It’s a film that’s perfect for Keanu. It oozes style and is very visual, not needing huge amounts of dialogue that expose his slightly wooden acting. He’s able to do what he does best. Look cool, beat up bad guys and say tough guy things while still being extremely likeable for an audience. With all those factors in place, I thought he knocked it out of the park.
The film opens with us quickly introduced to John Wick, and a quick montage of his wife dying of an undisclosed illness. He then receives a dog as a last gift from his dead wife, and immediately falls in love with it. However, when some unfortunate burglars steal his car and kill his dog, they set off a chain of events that leads Wick to jump back into a violent past life within which he was a highly feared and well known legend of sorts. This set up is cliched and simple, but done really well and swiftly, allowing us to get straight down to the exhilarating, pulse pounding business that the film is all about.
When I say pulse pounding, that’s exactly what I mean. Reeves has a lot of experience in on screen martial arts and gun violence, through his kung fu movie interests and of course his work on The Matrix. It shows here. He looks right at home with a gun in his hand, but rookie directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s technique is what sets the action apart. The choreography and set designs are perfectly melded, and unique. The body counts are extremely high, but not so overwhelming that they seem completely unrealistic (like The Raid perhaps, even though I adore that film). The almost graceful flow to each scene is aided by the fact that they opted to move the camera back a bit to allow for longer shots and less cuts. I’m a huge fan of long shots and they add so much authenticity, so for Directors willing to deal with the challenge of getting them right, they can payoff with dividends as they have here. Lastly, the sound effects are incredible. Each gun shot booms with such an intensity. No silencers here. Each shot fired vibrates your body in the theater and really adds to an already incredible experience.
Along with the incredible action, I’d say the highlight of the film for me is the way that the writer managed to create this alternate world and rich backstory, without actually spending any dedicated screen time at all. It doesn’t seem like much, it adds so much richness to the film without inflating the efficient 95 minute running time. It’s done through small interactions with other characters that were clearly a part of John’s past, and other characters conversing about him. This really does create a much richer and more interesting world for us to get invested in, almost in the back of our minds as we watch the breakneck pace of the adventure unfold. A really unique and effective way to enhance a film like this.
All in all, John Wick was a huge surprise and one of my favorite trips to the cinema this year. The film has a distinct visual style, beautifully put together, incredibly choreographed and visceral fight scenes that inject bits and pieces of fun into them where needed. Plus it has a likeable anti-hero type of character, which is perfect for Keanu Reeves. If you get the chance, get out there and catch this one in the cinema.