John Wick

2014-12-19 14:11
What it's about:

John Wick is a retired assassin who, while dealing with the death of his wife, is thrown back into his former world as he seeks revenge against those who took the only thing he had left of her.

What we thought:

John Wick has been met with a surprising amount of praise, not only for its success as a stripped down action-thriller but for Keanu Reeves' central performance in it. As near as I can tell, this probably has more to do with how hungry general audiences are for halfway decent action movies and just how much slack most of us are willing to cut Mr Reeves than with any real merit of the film itself.

Not that it's a bad movie or that Reeves is particularly bad in it, but it's ultimately more solidly efficient than it is anything truly special and Reeves' performance is more a reminder of why he's a star in the first place than any sort of real revelation about any undiscovered acting abilities. It does its job basically, but the only reason I can see for it being as relatively lauded as it has been is that so few action thrillers these days manage to do even that.

Reeves has never been, and probably never will be, what anyone would consider a 'good' actor but he does have a natural charisma and unfailing likeability that allows him to easily transcend his many limitations and function as a perfectly good leading man. As John Wick, he isn't exactly given much to work with as the character is every bit as one-note as you may imagine, but his basic likeability does mean that we get to sympathise with a character that is, on paper, quite unsympathetic.

Interestingly, while Reeves and his primary co-stars Willem Defoe and Michael Nyqvist are seasoned professionals, the same certainly can't be said of the film's writer and two directors. While writer Derek Kolstad has only two previous credits to his name (neither of which I've heard of and both of which came out over the past two years), the film's directors, Chad Stahelski and (the uncredited) David Leitch, are former stuntmen who have never directed anything before. If nothing else then, even if John Wick is ultimately uninspired and generic, it's an amazingly assured début – or near début – feature film.

As stuntmen, the film's directors show a natural knack for crafting exciting and well choreographed action scenes where you can mostly actually tell what's going – which is just as well considering that this is one action film that is decidedly unafraid of lots and lots and lots of violence. We're not talking Reservoir Dogs here, of course, as all of the violence is pretty repetitive but this is clearly a film that lives by the mantra that talking is for pussies and blowing shit up is the only way to go. It's ideal for action-heads, in other words, but as someone who overdosed on action films in his teenage years, I found the endless carnage and action set pieces to be wearying to the point of boredom.

I could talk about the crappy dialogue, the inane character motivations and daft plotting for days, but, honestly, why judge a film for what it so obviously isn't even trying to be. What I will say then is this: if you're a fan of mindless, bloody (and quite humourless) action movies then John Wick is unquestionably something you should seek out as fast as humanly possible but for old farts like me, who have seen one generic action movie too many in their time, you would do well to stay far, far away.

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Matthew Joseph Jenner 2014/12/20 14:41
It is definitely NOT mindless - in fact, it is one of the smartest action films for a while. Its funny when the review calls the film mindless, yet it is dumber than the actual movie :)
Ilan Preskovsky 2014/12/22 20:53
I'm glad you liked the film, Matthew, but I'm genuinely curious: what about this film was "smart" to you? I genuinely don't get it.
Jacques Joubert 2015/02/09 11:42
What to say about John Wick? Generally well received, especially by fans of the action genre, John Wick is a mindless, but strangely fun and entertaining venture into a genre that has long lost what has made it so popular. It ticks all the boxes: 1) Person with history of violence -Check 2) Near unparallelled set of skills -Check 3) Loss as motivation -Check 4) Everybody who gets in his way dies -Check. Since the time of the first Death Wish film(Starring Charles Bronson as the titular tough guy) a 100 versions of this same story have been told over and over again, so what makes this film any different? Not too much I'm afraid. John Wick is the same film we have seen time and time again. Two points on which I do feel the film deserves credit: 1) It looks fantastic, Director Chad Stahelski and uncredited stunt-man partner David Leitch tapped into all of their previous experience as movie stunt men to create a visual extravaganza. The choreography of the fights, the pacing of the action, the editing, all were spot on and very well done. One thing about it I really enjoyed was that it was not edited like a video game, you could see the action playing out in front of your eyes, longer takes instead of the splinter cutting effect used in so many action movies nowadays. 2) Screen writer Derek Kolstad created a very interesting world for assassins, from the save haven of the Continental(Where no business may be conducted), the cleanup services book by dinner reservation straight through to the fact that all dealings are funded by an endless supply of gold coins. These details lifted a very basic story from just another bad action tale. Was this a script that will turn heads? Definitely not. It contains some utterly forgettable dialogue, but the question is, are you there to watch these assassins talk or do what they were trained to do? Some really good actors like Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane are woefully underused in characters that don't even scratch the surface of their abilities. Keanu Reeves does a decent job, especially fiscally, the part of the role that asks the most questions in this type of film. Reeves' natural likeability lifts the character of John Wick above being another Steven Seagal creation. So to sum up: If you are going to watch John Wick for plot and acting and so forth, you are in the wrong cinema, but if you are there for an entertaining action thrill, strap in and let the ride take you all the way. ***/5
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