JOHN WICK (USA/16/101mins)

Directed by Chad Stahelski, David Leitch. Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Bridget Regan, John Leguizamo, Adrianne Policki.

THE PLOT: We open on Johnny (Reeves) rolling his jeep to a halt before stumbling out, bloodied and dazed, switching on his phone to view a happier time, with a pretty, smiling girl, on a sunny beach, before collapsing. Cut to the morning alarm, Johnny strolling through his open-plan penthouse home, grabbing a coffee as the flashbacks of the pretty girl mount, right up to her sudden collapse in his arms, and the kiss on the forehead as the machine is being turned off. All that sadness soon takes a back seat when the loudmouth son (Allen) of a local crime boss (Nyqvist) not only steals his beloved Mustang but kills his dog into the bargain. And that’s when the slow, steady march of revenge begins, the father instantly aware of the danger his son has put himself in. No one steals a car from John Wick. No one. They have awoken a beast.

THE VERDICT: Man, how long has it been since Keanu Reeves made a good movie? The guy is worse than Bruce Willis when it comes to the all-important hits-to-duds. After 47 RONIN, it’s very possible the guy might actually be banned from entering China. Jaysus, the money lost on that one. With all the gleeful punch of OLDBOY in its set-up, and its playful iconography giving JOHN WICK all the calm killer cool of Bruce Lee, Walker, Leon, The Man With No Name, Chili Palmer, eh, Taffin, and all the rest. Shit, this is very nearly as good as last year’s IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE.

The casting works too. Alfie Allen already has some experience in the ineffectual warlord’s son, Nyqvist (GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, TOGETHER) is his usual brilliant self, and Reeves’ one trick – looking like a dog who’s just been shown a card trick – fits the role just right. Best of all, JOHN WICK doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just gets on with being cool, and killing lots and lots of bad guys.

RATING: 4/5

Review by Paul Byrne

John Wick
Review by Paul Byrne
4.0Keanu's Comeback!
  • filmbuff2011

    You may not know the name John Wick yet, but you certainly won’t forget it after seeing this solid, thrilling action film. It also proves that you can still make a great, original film with that most common of movie themes – revenge. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a quiet, unassuming man who recently lost his wife. Grieving over her loss, he receives a parting gift from her in the form of a puppy. But just four days after burying her, his mourning is rudely interrupted by Iosef (Alfie Allen) and his thugs, who break into his house, beat him up, steal his vintage car and kill his dog. Iosef has messed with the wrong man, something which his father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) has to tell him with blunt force. That man is John Wick, a deadly former hitman who hung up his holster… but now he’s back. He’s on a roaring rampage of revenge against his former employer and his son. Wick will do whatever it takes to settle the score… John Wick is a furious blast of a film, revving along at 120km per hour without the slightest trace of fat in Derek Kolstad’s screenplay. This is a lean, mean action film that means business. There’s just no stopping Wick, who favours close-range headshots over talky scenes that aren’t going to add anything to the story. He’s a man of few words, but when he speaks it’s with gravitas. Reeves is compelling here, reminding us how good he can be with the right role. Looking very sprightly for a 50-year-old, he executes the action scenes with careful precision (apparently he did 90% of his own stunts). Making his directorial debut, Chad Stahelski obviously paid attention on the set of The Matrix trilogy, as he was Reeves’ stunt double (he’s a familiar name for anyone who worked their way through the hours of DVD extras). He injects a kinetic sense of fun and danger into the action scenes, while also ensuring that they seem realistic and not Matrix-like. He also builds a mysterious cult-like world around that of assassins for hire – one with rules that can be bent or broken depending on who is involved. While it may not seem necessary, a sequel has already been greenlit. Let’s hope that the sequel maintains the delicate balance between emotion, humour and barnstorming action that this first film has achieved so well. Go see. Now. ****

  • emerb

    Confidently directed by veteran stuntman Chad Stahelski, John Wick is one of the most exciting and thrilling crime action films I’ve seen in a long time. It is a fairly standard revenge thriller about a reformed assassin who returns to the game for personal reasons.

    The movie is brilliant in its simplicity – efficient and swift. Reeves plays a hitman who retired from the profession five years earlier when he fell in love. But his wife, Helen, succumbed to a long illness and left him distraught. His grief is somewhat eased by the arrival of her final gift, an adorable puppy named Daisy that gives him a kind of hope for the future. This brief solace is short-lived however. Iosef (Alfie Allen), the loutish and spoiled son of a Russian mob boss
    accosts him at a petrol station and tries to intimidate him into selling his car. When that fails, the hotheaded ignoramous Iosef and his thugs later come back, break into his giant, sleek, ultra mod home, steal his 1969 Ford Mustang, beat him to a pulp and kill his dog. This cracks Wick and from this point, the movie essentially becomes a revenge picture. He is now steadfast in his determination to seek out his target in retribution. Wick is back in cold-blooded killer mode and the truth about who he actually is, is slowly revealed. It turns out that before meeting his wife and retiring, Wick was a legendary hit man known as the Boogeyman, or rather “the one you sent to kill the Boogeyman”. Iosef didn’t realise that Wick was a former employee of his father, Russian crimelord Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), and remains a hitman of remarkable prowess with a legendary reputation. Making Iosef pay means taking on the extensive criminal organization of his father but that doesn’t worry Wick. Now the entire underworld has to prepare for the ultimate killer’s return, and the inevitable bloodshed and violence that will ensue. A 2 million dollar price is put on his head and first to consider the opportunity is Wick’s former colleague Marcus (Willem Dafoe), a crack sniper, as well as Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), a female contract killer who’s as deadly as she is attractive.

    Keanu Reeves’ career as an action star has had many ups and downs. There were the gems like Speed or The Matrix, but there were plenty of duds and he has often seemed a bit lost. After a marked absence, John Wick sees an effortless return to form for the actor. Reeves has always been more comfortable in roles that demand him to play cool and collected .He is never at ease as a comedian or a romantic lead (Sweet November, The Lake House) but he has a certain physical charisma that draws you in. In typical Keanu style, his Wick is
    convincing – a man of few words. Dressed in impeccably tailored suits and
    a scruffy beard, he is the perfect killer who lets his fists, legs and bullets do the work. He hardly speaks at all but when he does, he means what he says. The cast is top notch, including Michael Nyqvist and a group of gangsters who each put their own spin on the natty professional criminal – Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters.

    “John Wick” is energetic, stylish and sophisticated with many fantastic action sequences which cleverly mask the lack of a real plotline. The script was written by Derek Kolstad and it’s clever in that he creates an impressively distinctive, self-contained underworld in which criminals have their own rules and their own currency. They even have boutique hotels that cater exclusively to hitmen, including a high-end hotel with Ian McShane as proprietor, where most of the Russian gang congregate. Criminals live by a “certain code” and Wicks’ mission
    is to take down the whole crime syndicate.

    “John Wick” is and expertly made revenge thriller – violent, bloody, ferocious and amoral, certainly not for the faint hearted but the action sequences are really terrific. Hard core fans will be thrilled to watch Wick taking out dozens of gangsters at a time with an exotic mix of jumps, judo and handgun-to-the-face, all
    delivered with an assured calmness that’s a perfect match for his persona.
    The fighting, shooting, neck-snapping, back-breaking and head-exploding
    are shocking and visceral but thrilling. The movie stays away from dialogue
    and concentrates on visual story telling. The director-producer team of
    Chad Stahelski and David Leitch work fantastically together. They were
    both stuntmen and it shows, the action scenes are superbly choreographed
    with no shoddy camerawork or dodgy editing – there is a smooth fluidity
    to the violence which keeps you alert and engaged. “John Wick” will have
    Reeves fans delighted. With any other actor in the role, it would have
    just been another one in the list of action flicks with hot music and shoot
    outs. Keanu Reeves brings a certain abstract style and gravitas to the
    role that raises the bar and is sure to guarantee good box office numbers.
    Perhaps if there is a flaw, it is the sheer number and style of the choreographed
    killing scenes, they become almost balletic and thus lose a realistic tone.
    Fans of gangster movies will love it but the rest might question a risible
    plot and overkill in the general mayhem.