Tuesday 4 November 2014

John Wick (2014) - Movie Review

Keanu Reeves, in my opinion, gets a bad rap. Everyone just seems to gauge his performances with either Bill & Ted or The Matrix, as if the guy hasn’t made any other movies apart from them. His method of acting, which is definitely low-key but not as banal as others make him out, did him well in movies like Devil’s Advocate, My Own Private Idaho and A Scanner Darkly. Hell, I even liked him in the much-maligned Constantine, which I seriously think people were too harsh on as a whole. Then again, even I can see his duds: Much Ado About Nothing, while excellent, proved that Shakespeare isn’t Keanu’s style in any way, The Day The Earth Stood Still was phenomenally dull and 47 Ronin from earlier this year was just plan terri-bad. So, where does his latest effort John Wick stand?

The plot: John Wick, a former New York mob hitman, gets assaulted, his dog killed and his car stolen, a few short days after his wife died due to illness. With everything giving him hope now gone, he decides to get back to the life he left behind and carve a bloody trail of vengeance to the people who attacked him.

Keanu does a brilliant job with his role, no ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s actually kind of surprising the nuances in his performance (seriously): The shaking of his hands as he reads a note written by his wife, the twitching of a vein in his neck just before he loses his cool; the man knows what he’s doing. He delivers all the action hero one-liners with the poise of a veteran and his angry roar against the main antagonist in one scene, the father of the thugs who attacked him, is pretty damn cathartic. As far as the action heroes of this year go, Keanu as John Wick is up there. The rest of the cast don’t slouch either. Michael Nyqvist as the main antagonist Viggo Tarasov plays a great yin to Wick’s yang as his performance gets more and more manic as the movie progresses; Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane and John Leguizamo do well with their smaller roles; and Adrianne Palicki does a fine job as Ms. Perkins who, unlike Palicki’s performance as Wonder Woman in the unaired TV pilot, is supposed to be cold-hearted and psychotic.

The writing does a lot of work building up Wick’s character and how much of a badass he is, and the action scenes prove every word. It’s a difficult job to give someone that kind of air and not have it come across as standard action hyper-machismo, and granted this does dip into that territory at points, but it never feels undeserved. The motive for Wick’s rampage, on the surface, seems like major overreaction… which it kind of is, but the way the film explains it gives it some gravitas and allows you to buy into it. The action scenes are superbly handled, with Wick using what looks like an entire Army surplus store against Viggo’s goons with great cinematography and music to back it up. If it seems like I’m glossing over it, know that that’s only because there’s only so many ways I can say “The action scenes are awesome”. Don’t discount them in any way.

The definite highlight of the film, bar none, is the setting and the atmosphere it exudes. The way that New York’s criminal underground is portrayed in this movie, through its distinct locales like the Continental Hotel to the Red Circle nightclub, to the hushed tones they speak about ‘the management’ and how people dare not to cross them and break their rules, makes it feel like this was adapted from a novel in a very rich series. However, this isn’t the case: This is one of the rare few movies to have come out in the last few years that ISN’T a remake, reboot, sequel, or adapted from a pre-existing source. From the tiny glimpses we get into the world of John Wick, it looks like there is a lot to work with for future movies. I rarely, if ever, actively hope for a sequel to a film, but this is definitely one of those times. Hell, at least give us some spin-off novels.

All in all, this is damn good. All the pieces come together (The action scenes, the direction, the acting, the writing, even the lighting) to create a very stylish, yet very brutal, look into the tried-and-true story of one man and his quest for vengeance, and come out with something truly awesome.

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