A Year of Unlimited #17 – John Wick

This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!

When a film’s plot is “former assassin gets back in the game after someone he loves is killed”, you might expect many things – none of them good. John Wick however has Keanu Reeves, a host of quality character actors, some brutal action and a really unique style that make it a new action classic. It’s almost as good as The Raid at times, which is high praise from this action fan.

John Wick (Reeves) is a former hitman who’s left that life behind, but tragic circumstances – thanks to arrogant young Russian gangster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) force him back into the criminal underworld, and up against old boss and ally Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), Iosef’s kingpin father. Along for the ride are a whole host of other assassins and criminals, including sniper Marcus (Willem Dafoe), femme fatale Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) and assassin hotelier Winston (Ian McShane).john-wick-poster

Reeves is now 50, but you honestly wouldn’t know it as he ploughs through hundreds of expendable henchman. Wick is known as the ‘Boogeyman’ for having been the very best at killing people, and directors (and former stuntmen) Chad Stahelski and David Leith bring a sense of clarity and momentum to the action that will please anyone sick to death of shakey-cam. Wick effortlessly and clearly bests everyone else, and you can – *gasp* – comprehend what’s going on in a scene! Give these two every action film to direct in future.

People love to mock Keanu, but he’s great at combining a cold and enigmatic presence with moments of humour and humanity – Wick would take one look at Neo and sneer before shooting him in the head. Nyqvist brings some Icelandic steel and unpredictability to what could have been a one-note mobster villain, while Allen – Game of Throne’s Theon Greyjoy – is typically skeezy and hateful as the archetypal ‘bastard son of a criminal’ character.

What I really enjoyed about the movie though was its desire to throw in character actors left, right and centre to give the film some class. Dafoe’s Marcus is the closest thing Wick has to a  friend among enemies, and it’s nice to see him not playing a villain for once, while Palicki gives the film a brutal female presence that isn’t just eye-candy or plot motivation. Ian McShane is the sort of actor almost made for appearances such as this, and his hotelier Winston – along with Lance Reddick’s receptionist, Clarke Peters’ guest, John Leguizamo’s mechanic and Dean Winter’s criminal lawyer – all offer little sparks of humour or depth to what could have been a rote plot. You can see why a sequel is being planned, as there’s so much potential for stories in this bizzaro-Manhattan.

The film also looks good and sounds better – the music is a heavy, rock-influenced soundtrack that perfectly matches Wick’s unstoppable badassery. Having been shot on digital, the movie makes the most of the dark environs and the glossy, neon lights of New York City, giving it a glossy and filtered look.

The one-man revenge story is as old as cinema itself, but what John Wick does is strip the plot to its basics before adding the characters mentioned above and a unique in-film world. We start out with Wick in his retired, domestic lifestyle, but we then start to see the interesting alt-New York that Stahelski and Leitch have devised with writer Derek Kolstad. Mercenaries and assassins stay in the Continental Hotel, a criminal-only venue, and all seem to know each other, with “business” not allowed to be conducted at the hotel under pain of death. It’s additions like this – as well as an almost pirate-like gold coin currency, and a clean-up crew for dead bodies – that deepen the film and make it more than just an action thriller.

All of this is not to say you’ll love the film – movies like this tend to appeal to certain viewers more than others. The sheer amount of gunfight scenes and violence – Wick is a master assassin, with every person he shoots getting one in the head – may bore or disgust, and animal lovers in particular should be wary of the beginning of the movie! On the other hand, Wick’s motivation for the hellstorm of death to follow may actually make him the first pro-animal rights action hero.

But this is all by-the-by for the people who know they’ll enjoy John Wick – like The Raid, which I mentioned earlier, this film doesn’t seem to stop, pushing on relentlessly to its conclusion. If you love action films, you owe it to yourself to see John Wick.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.