John Wick (2014) Directed by Chad Stahelski. With Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Mikael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters and Ian McShane.
Revenge/action has seemed a crowded genre in recent years. We’ve taken all we can of Liam Neeson in a black leather jacket, doling out his own particular brand of justice to a line up of cardboard baddies. It is then, all the more surprising that first-time director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick, is as fresh and exciting as it is.
Keanu Reeves plays the title role – a retired hit-man reactivated through personal tragedy. Indeed, had it not been used so famously before, the tagline “This time it’s personal” would perfectly befit. That’s the real trick of the movie, though, it comes at you like every other revenge flick you’ve ever seen, but in the hands of a talented director, it has a vital energy and a visual snap, that, coupled with an urgent momentum and well-balanced pacing, sets it aside from a crop of similarly-themed and forgettably formulaic fodder.
Stahelski, with the help of cinematographer, Jonathan Sela (would you believe this guy photographed A Good Day to Die Hard!?) works in striking shot compositions and lighting, alongside balletic action set-pieces, which combine a sense of grace and brutality amid a neo-noirish feel adorned with night-time cityscapes and trendy nightclubs.
Keanu Reeves is an actor often maligned for a lack of range, but outside of Bill & Ted, he’s never more perfectly cast than here. In the career of any actor, timing can be a key factor between success and the void. Reeves, a product of the 1980’s, achieved A-list status by the 1990’s, which climaxed with his career-defining role as Neo in The Matrix. Since then, for over 15-years, he’s struggled. John Wick is one of those perfect life-art mirror situations, with symbiosis between actor and character as Reeves comes out fighting as underdog, birthing an enigmatic character who kicks ass with a unique brand of gun-fu.
It’s hard to pick fault with a film that works as effectively as John Wick. It embraces cliche, but balances it well enough to sit snugly in a gap between the irreverent and the solemn. A rip-roaring success for all involved, and hopefully the beginning chapter of a fun action series. 4/5