March 22, 2015

John Wick

Flawlessly executed gun battles and hand-to-hand combat scenes highlight a deadly serious revenge thriller. The story is dead simple- John Wick is a retired professional contract killer, torn from his retirement when the son of a mob kingpin invades his home, beats him to a pulp, kills his dog and steals his 1969 Mustang. Wick digs up his past (literally- his guns are buried in his basement) and re-enters the criminal underworld on the most calm and restrained deadly rampage ever, all to kill the man who killed his dog.

John Wick got a lot of press for being directed by a former stunt man and stunt director- in fact, it was directed by Keanu Reeves' former stunt double.
The movie feels like the answer to the question "What if a movie production was only concerned with staging the best gun battles and fight scenes possible, and all other considerations must come second?"
The action is flawlessly executed, the choreography is exacting but not flashy, the cinematography, sound design, and gun effects are all precise and effective. Wick's combination of ruthless efficiency and improvisation was breathtaking to watch.

The story itself could not be more simple - Retired killer-for-hire goes on one last mission for himself to avenge a terrible crime- but it's a compliment to Derek Kolstad's original screenplay that the movie's richness of detail gives John Wick the feel of a graphic novel.
The c riminal underworld is fully realized with plenty of colorful detail. Wick is greeted by the community of criminals that populate the movie as a well-respected former colleague. The criminal underworld includes a hitman's hotel, a work-free zone where killers can unwind; a monetary system based on gold coins; an unbreakable honor among thieves code, and all sorts of rules for "open" and "exclusive" contracts that can be issued and withdrawn. The cast is chock full of terrific character actors, many much better than their roles deserve:
  • Willem Dafoe has a few meaty scenes as an honorable sniper;
  • John Leguizamo has one scene as a chop-shop owner;
  • Ian McShane is another former colleague who grants one last favor to Wick;
  • Dean Winters (30 Rock, those insurance commercials, Battle Creek) is a mob lieutenant;
  • Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights, Agents of SHIELD, About A Boy, that failed Wonder Woman pilot) is a ruthless, dishonorable hit-woman?
  • Michael Nyqvist (the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy) is the mob kingpin whose spineless, d-bag son sets the story in motion. I remember Nyqvist for his uncanny resemblance to Vladimir Putin in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
  • Alfie Allen is the d-bag. Best known for his role as Reek on Game of Thrones, he is no stranger to playing spineless d-bags.
  • My old pal David Patrick Kelly, whom I love in Commando and 48 Hrs makes an appearance too!
What about the star of the movie? I don't have much to say about Reeves- he is excellent in certain roles, and he serves the part well. He must really enjoy the nuts and bolts of action choreography - and shooting at night - because that's all he does in John Wick.

My primary complaints: the music had a passe industrial rock vibe that felt at least 10 years out of fashion; I am completely over helicopter shots of cityscapes where the camera is pointed nearly straight down.

The unflinching, humorless violence is not everyone's bag, but what it sets out to do it does well. My Stub Hubby Grade: B (Amazon Instant Video with baby Sweetie sleeping in my arms)