“I know Gun-Fu?” Yeah, Keanu, now… you do. And I love that you do.
JOHN WICK is a focused revenge film. It doesn’t mess around. It sets up the stage, and totally delivers. If you go along with the ride, the motive is surprisingly emotional and effective. KEANU REEVES delivers one of his best performances in JOHN WICK. Yeah. I said that. Keanu. Performing. From an acting point of view, this was a welcomed surprise.
We meet John Wick as he mourns the passing of his wife. She left behind a special gift to help him cope with her absence – a dog. You’d think a cute little puppy would make this sort of movie cheesy. But it doesn’t. Even with Keanu’s sullied reputation as a cardboard cut-out. It still isn’t cheesy.
Actually, Keanu impresses with his delivery of heartbreak and loss. In a dialogue-free moment, we watch Keanu crumble once his gift is taken from him. And I felt it. All I expected out of JOHN WICK was gunplay and karate chops, but what I got was a bloody revenge film with a beating heart.
By the time Wick confronts the big bad baddie and delivers his revenge speech, I felt every beat. A brief snippet of dialogue (included in the trailer) really drives it home, “Yeah. I’m thinkin’ I’m back…” In fact, there are numerous memorable one-liners that land efficiently with Keanu’s style of delivery. The screenplay is surprisingly good, from the one-liners, to the story, and concept.
Some Russian thugs picked the wrong guy to rob, at an especially wrong time. John Wick is known as the Boogeyman in the criminal underworld. His frightening reputation was earned from his lethal efficiency as a hitman. Once the Wick is lit, it burns fast. Keanu retrieves his arsenal and awaits the thugs return. And what a reunion it was.
This action sequence in Wick’s home sets the stage for the most insane (American) action seen on screen in quite some time – maybe since THE MATRIX. The fight scenes convey a visceral energy on par with the amazing RAID films from Indonesia. We watch as Wick moves stealthly, strategically removing the threat from his home. He uses a combination of bullets, Judo, and Gun-kata (or martial artistry with a pistol).
From this confrontation on, the movie doesn’t let up once. Each impressive set-piece is spiced full of different flavours. By the end of the film, we even get to see a car used as a weapon. It’s like Car-ate instead of Karate. He whips his ride around with balletic prowess. A real highlight was driving into a baddie, and shooting through the car roof as thuggy McThug rolls over top.
My favourite sequence was an extended gun battle in a secret nightclub. It is the best bit of gun porn since JOHN WOO’s legendary Hong Kong action flick THE KILLER from the 90s. It really needs to be seen to understand.
Keanu Reeves is the only action hero today that does his own stunts. It’s clear with the wide framing that it is Reeves fighting. There isn’t clever MTV-style editting to hide the stunt actor. We see the fight, sometimes for a long duration, as he dispatches one baddie after the next. It’s like THE BIRDMAN of action films. A ROBERT ALTMAN ballet of bullets, if you will.
The kinetic intenstity of JOHN WICK boils down to the creative team behind-the-scenes. A super-famous stunt team chose WICK for their directing debut. They trained Keanu for months before filming even started. They choreographed the fights based specifically on Keanu’s skill-set. And it shows.
Rarely, in the history of action films has an actor demonstrated so much passion to perform and willingness to physically prepare for stuntwork like KEANU REEVES. It’s not just the karate stuff he learned from THE MATRIX, it’s a combination of Keanu’s previous experience (like POINT BREAK and SPEED), and new skills like intense car stunts.
WICK keeps it simple. Keanu has been wronged, we believe his motives, we’re emotionally connected to them, and then we watch him exact his revenge. What starts as a gangsters son’s stupidity (stealing Wick’s car, killing his dog), ratchets up to a large bounty pursued by a community of assassins, and finally culminating in revenge against the gang’s leader.
There’s actually an interesting premise behind the simple revenge concept – a hotel for hitmen. There are clear cut rules. No business can be conducted there. That means no talk about work, no contract negotiations, no hiring, and most importantly – no fighting. As the Russian gang-leader ups the contract, a female assassin (ADRIANNE PALICKI) breaks the rules and takes the job.
I like the idea that this world has a history. These characters are known to one another. Wick is a legend. If there’s anything that could use some work it’s a bit more development on Palicki’s assassin. It’s not like I need a 5 minute scene explaining who she is. I just think she could have been “cooler”. Everyone else seems to be perfectly orchestrated. Even WILLEM DAFOE, as an ally with limited screen time, is memorable. Palicki’s lack of a stand-out moment, in comparison, really…um…stands out.
When a movie like WICK promises on action, all you really want (as a viewer) is for it to deliver. You just want to get excited and have fun, like a roller coaster ride. JOHN WICK aims its sights on each element, perfectly piercing each target.
What we have here is a simple revenge fuelled story centered on a compelling character (and ultimate bad ass) – JOHN WICK – portrayed brilliantly by Canadian KEANU REEVES.
Plain and simple. You want action, you got JOHN WICK.
What did you think?
Was WICK the ultimate guy’s movie (like another Keanu movie POINT BREAK)?
Do you want a sequel already? In the words of Gary Busey, “Gimme 2, Utah… Two!”
Did you find it emotional and effective early on? Or was the set-up too cheesy?
What did you think of the martial arts sequences?
What do you think of the Gun-Fu stuff? If you like that style, don’t let EQUILIBRIUM (a cult classic with Christian BALE) slip/through your hands.
What did you think of the other assassins & the concept of a hitman hotel sanctuary?
Do we need more Keanu Reeves action films? Could this be a Liam Neeson-like revival?
What is the best Keanu action movie of all time?