An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. With New York City as his bullet-riddled playground, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a fresh and stylized take on the “assassin genre”.
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good, solid action film that’s largely just about a man piling up bodies, if it’s done well. For most films that fall into that mold, though, there are too many extraneous elements that make the film less enjoyable. Convoluted setups, exposition dumps, and too much downtime are all things that films like…well, anything starring Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington these days, do that make me want something leaner.
Enter John Wick.
There’s not much to the setup of the film, so I can’t explain it in much detail without giving everything up. I will say, though, that it’s simple, understandable, and properly sets up the nearly nonstop action that follows. That may not sound like much, but a film like this isn’t a character study, and John Wick thankfully doesn’t do anything to suggest otherwise.
What the film does do, aside from building terrific action sequences (more on that in a moment), is create a believable world that Wick walked away from once, and now finds himself reentering. It’s a world of criminals and murderers, but one where the players do have a set of rules to live by, which makes the way the characters interact all the more fascinating.
While this marks the formal directorial debut of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (the latter is formally credited as a producer due to a ruling from the Directors Guild of America), both have worked as second-unit directors, stunt coordinators and stunt doubles in Hollywood films for years. I point this out because for all of the bodies that do pile up over John Wick‘s relatively lean running time, this film goes against the tendency of most action flicks to feature a lot of quick cuts and dark shadows to cover any flaws in fighting. These two know what they’re doing, and they want to make sure the audience can see what’s going on.
Keanu Reeves, who had Stahelski as his stunt double for The Matrix, is perfectly suited for this role. John is an emotional blank slate for most of the film, and Keanu fits that perfectly. He’s joined by a strong slate of character actors playing various roles, all of whom are talented enough to create strong impressions with little to no backstory.
Unlike a lot of similar films, John Wick has a good sense of what exactly it is and what it wants to accomplish. Action fans should seek this one out.
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