Monday 27 April 2015

Review: John Wick

Year: 2015
Directors: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad 
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe.

Synopsis is here:

There's a character profile poster of the titular John Wick, which has his tie fashioned as a fuse set alight. The tag line reads: Don't set him off. It's a piece of marketing that is as direct as the film its advertising. It's as lean as they come and that's why it works. It's a poster that doesn't complicate things. Neither does the film itself. John Wick is quick with establishing the stakes, but never clouds them with needless padding. Mr Wick has lost his car. He has lost his dog (a symbol of a greater loss). He demands satisfaction.

John Wick is the kind of genre film that assholes like me keep claiming aren’t being made anymore. Yet its type of film we can only think of someone like Keanu Reeves still being capable of making. Pulling punches is not in its dictionary. It hits quickly and hard. I fell in love with John Wick not only because of its physicality and practical effects, but because it creates an intricate universe with economy and sharpness. We’re quickly informed of the informal details before our lead character is wound up and let loose.

Despite being fully loaded with an armory's worth of cliché, John Wick is an action film that its own sense of style and attitude throughout. It’s a bold mixture of hard boiled noir and bloody nosed revenge flick. Its vivid cinematography (often punctuated with flashes of primary colours) gives it a feel reminiscent of a video game or a comic book you may have experienced, but holds a set design that seems to have one foot planted firmly in the past. That would help to explain the character’s strict adherence to a mysterious assassin’s code. These killers are paid in doubloon like coins, they order their messy clean ups as “reservations”. Their natural ground (where no business is allowed) has the semblance of a speakeasy. The film pilfers an assorted mixture of crime motifs and ideas. From muscle cars to codes of honour and whisks them into a heady mix.

John Wick could have easily been an ugly mess. However the film's directors; Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (uncredited) have laser focus in this debut. The film doesn’t hold a trace of fat, with its creators not only trimming the film to keep up its pace, but also to add the right amount of intrigue to the material. In the same way that the makers know when to cut and edit the brutally tactile choreography, they also know where to shave off flabby elements of plot. No one outstays their welcome, while the well pick cast know how to get the most out of very little.

Speaking of which. The film is definitely Keanu’s. Forever the straight man, Reeves has been mocked as a non-actor throughout his career. Range has never been his gift. But I can’t doubt or deny his on screen presence when it comes to action. His grim visage was never built for multi-faceted dramas. But here he excels. Reacting to those around him like a tightly wound coil. It’s in John Wick you realise just how well Reeves has played the straight man. Particularly now with many of the new generation of movie stars looking increasingly more bland with each announced reboot/remake. Reeve’s has never been one for dramatic depth. Yet, as Wick he still manages to show the determination and focus which made him so engaging in the likes of Speed (1994), Point Break (1991), and The Matrix (1999).

That’s what makes John Wick so engaging. Everyone is working to their strengths. Keanu Reeves is still an actor that looks like he can take henchmen down comfortably. The directors come from the stunt world, therefore keep their sights set on the elements that they work well in. The film is well cast and the "timeless" world that they're allowed to play in, is wonderfully distinct.  It’s an action film that won me over with its boldness and knowing how to play with the tropes. Here’s hoping this lean, mean outlook to action films gives these filmmakers a nice full fat directional career.