Friday, October 24, 2014

John Wick



JOHN WICK: Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, directed by Chad Stahelski (96 min.)

John Wick succeeds because it knows what it is.  Here is an absurd film in the real world, but a fascinating one in this alternate reality it creates on the screen.  It has the look and feel of a graphic novel adaptation, only it is absent of any source material.  I admire it for that.  John Wick has the confidence to be absurd, and goes full throat with said absurdity in order to eliminate any doubt.  The cliche machine is pumping in the veins of this film, but as I have always said, genre cliche is just fine if it is executed with some class and inventiveness.  If John Wick is anything, it is classy and inventive in the face of one of the oldest stories in the book.

Keanu Reeves plays John Wick, slipping back into the action star role as if it were an old pair of blood-soaked shoes.  Wick is a former hit man who left the life in order to live happily ever after with his wife in their shiny postmodern home.  But his wife passes away from a sudden illness, leaving John adrift.  Before she died, however, she bought an adorable Beagle puppy for John, which is delivered to his doorstep on the night after her funeral.

Things seem fine until, of course, John unwillingly stumbles across some Russian mobsters at the gas station who take a liking to his cherry 1969 Mustang.  The thugs break in, steal his car, and kill the dog.  This sets the plot in motion, and lights the fuse on John Wick's mission of vengeance.  From here, we plunge headlong into genre standards like the Russian mobsters, the hidden caches of artillery, and the showdown inside a nightclub.

Michael Nyqvist plays Viggo, the head of the Russian mob and the father of the idiot son who stole the car and killed the dog.  John Wick is so legendary, so feared in the underworld, that the mere mention or sight of him brings chills to any and everyone in the film.  Even the local police, when they arrive at his front door after he kills a dozen thugs, stays out of his way.  Viggo knows from the get go he is in for trouble, and tells his son that he can try and go after Wick if he wants.  It won't do him any good.  Nyqvist is an admirable villain, playing his gangster with a bit of aloofness and charm rather than being simply cold and violent.  He is clearly having fun with his character.

Wick's path of revenge takes him to a New York hotel that is perhaps the most unusual portion of the film, and sets it apart from reality.  This hotel seems to cater to professional assassins.  It is run by Winston (Ian McShane), who we meet in an underground bar where the only admittance is a gold coin.  These gold coins are the only currency with which John Wick operates, and this hotel has a doctor on call and seems unfazed by murders and hotel brawls.  Wick's arrival at the hotel seems to set the film in its place, and I realized at that point I must abandon all notions of the real world.  From there, blood is shed in gallons as Wick mows down the Russian mob one after another.

John Wick is a clinic on how to stage action scenes, and it is shot with slick and impeccable cinematography.  Every suit is tailored, every light in its right place.  The picture not only knows its place in this world, it knows when to quit, just about the time the proceedings grow tiresome.  John Wick is firmly entrenched in genre cliche, but it is a blast to watch Keanu Reeves having fun back in the comfy confines of action stardom.

B+