John Wick (2014)
Absolutely remorseless, purely unadulterated & downright violent from start to finish, John Wick is without a shadow of a doubt the most stylishly crafted, feverishly paced, seamlessly executed, intensely entertaining & immensely satisfying action flick to come out from Hollywood after a very long time which, apart from marking a welcome return to action for Keanu Reeves, also triumphs as one of the biggest cinematic surprises of the year, not to mention the coolest by far. Very refined in its visual presentation, taking a no-holds-barred approach with its content & providing heavy doses of pulse-pounding entertainment that many viewers would want to revisit again n again, John Wick is amongst the most impressive looking motion pictures of the year that takes its simple premise to an unexpected high, thanks to its kinetic direction, breathtaking action, neat cinematography, slick editing & a magnificent lead performance from Keanu Reeves.
John Wick tells the story of its titular character who once used to be the ultimate assassin but retired to take care of his dying wife. Eventually losing her to cancer, he receives a posthumous present from her in the form of a puppy to help him cope with her absence & move on with life. Indifferent at first, he eventually connects with the new pet but things are soon set in motion when he refuses to sell his vintage car to a Russian gangster, who later that night invades his home with his men, beats him up, kills his dog & steals his car. Already grieving the recent loss of his wife now coupled with the loss of her final gift to him, Wick is pushed beyond limit & decides to come out of retirement to track down the people responsible, only to find the culprit to be the son of his former employer. As the bounty on Wick’s head steadily rises, so does the body count for the ex-hitman manages to eliminate everyone who dares to come between him & his ultimate target.
Produced & directed by the first time filmmakers in Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, who until now had worked in the film industry as stunt coordinators, John Wick marks a stunning directional debut for both of them & is a spectacular start to their filmmaking careers. Already well-versed in the field of stunt work & action choreography, the two manage to add new freshness to the combat sequences by nicely blending its gunplay with grounded martial arts to take its moments of action to an explosive high. Heavily influenced from action usually present in John Woo films, the film also homage many action classics of the past yet manages to maintain its own identity throughout its runtime. Written by Derek Kolstad, the screenplay doesn’t waste much time in setting up its premise or introducing its characters & gets right down on business very early into the film by giving out just enough information about Wick to get the plot moving.
Technically, there is a lot to admire about John Wick as the film exhibits an otherworldly setting for a revenge thriller that makes minimal use of elements not relevant to the plot. Cinematography encapsulates the whole picture with a slightly darker tint but where the camera really makes a significant mark is in capturing the close combat sequences, which for a change aren’t crippled by either excessive editing or shaky camerawork. Editing skilfully gets rid of what isn’t required & paces its 101 minutes of runtime with vicious velocity but the final one-on-one fight did turn out to be quite anticlimactic. And the background score composed by Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard splendidly enhances the whole experience by remaining in tone with the film’s events. Yet the real winner in my opinion remains its action choreography & stunt work which almost single-handedly elevates John Wick into the league of cinema’s finest action entertainers in recent years.
Coming to the performances, John Wick features a very capable cast in Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo & Daniel Bernhardt, with Reeves & Dafoe impressing the most. Reeves may not be very good at expressing himself as an actor but his screen presence is nonetheless very catchy. And with the role of John Wick tailor-made for him plus using his charismatic screen persona to perfection, Reeves delivers a swashbuckling performance this time & steals every scene he is in. Despite having limited screen time, Dafoe ends up leaving his mark as Marcus; an elite assassin & John’s mentor, while McShane & Leguizamo are good in their given roles. But the villains aren’t even half as compelling as John Wick with Nyqvist playing Viggo; John’s former employer, Allen in as Iosef; Viggo’s son who started this whole bloody affair, Palicki does get to shine in one sequence, while Bernhardt as Viggo’s henchman manages to earn some extra points.
On an overall scale, John Wick is a smart, sophisticated & incredibly well-polished cinema that succeeds in finding the required balance between its spectacular moments of action & finely enacted dramatic portions and is coated with enough style to leave a lasting impression on most viewers. Sure it has its flaws like absence of an intimidating antagonist, a few subpar performances & its anticlimactic one-on-one finale that never really fits but the positives far outweighs the negatives here, that also by a huge margin, to deliver a cinema which is absolutely worth your time & money. Helmed by two new directors who really understand what great action is all about, boasting a script that knows when n where to draw the line & spearheaded by Keanu Reeves in what is one of his meatiest roles in ages, John Wick is a potent blend of high-octane, full-throttled & top-gear action spectacle that provides heavy dosage of adrenaline rush and comes as a must for every action film fanatic out there. Welcome back, Mr. Reeves! Welcome back!