"this is one of the best in the genre that I have seen in years"
When ex-hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) loses his wife, he finds she has sent him one last message (received after her funeral) to ease his pain and help him move on. But a chance encounter with a gangster in a petrol station leads to tragedy, prompting him to come out of retirement in order to seek revenge on the men who took everything from him.
For those of us who are naturally inclined to a little scepticism, you may question why this movie in particular has received such rave reviews, particularly from our friends across the pond. What is it that makes this action movie so special? What about this story is so different that it has received such acclaim? The answer is nothing. The base elements of the story are not so very different from a million other movies of its kind. The magic has come from the execution of said tale.
From the very beginning, although heaped in drama, you get the feeling that this is not a movie that takes itself so seriously. Following in the vein of one of my personal favourites, Die Hard, it mixes brutal violence and heart-breaking tragedy with dark humour that will have you guffawing in your seats. Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tarasov is a particular favourite of mine, quipping away throughout the film, even at seemingly the most inappropriate moments. His relationship with his right-hand man, Avi (Dean Winters) is also a source of great amusement with the latter seemingly perpetually exasperated by his boss’s constant disregard for his needs.
The whole cast, in fact, are pretty noteworthy. Alfie Allen as the petulant mob boss’s son is brilliant. From the moment he walks on screen you hate him. He is, all at once, violent, vindictive and child-like. Sneering, petty and arrogant from the beginning but when faced with the consequences of his actions, he becomes a snivelling little boy. You almost pity him. Almost. The supporting cast, right down to those who only grace our screens for a minute, all add a little something extra. Each has their own little joke, their own moment in the sun.
Hats off to the writer, Derek Kolstad, as well. Although woefully short of female characters (as with so many action movies), when one is included, they are refreshingly free of many grating stereotypes. Adrianne Palicki as Ms Perkins is majorly kick-ass. Able to keep up with the boys and never descending into that old cliché of love as her weakness.
Talking of kick-ass, the action sequences are amazing. Avoiding the common tendency to sell the hero as inexplicably so much stronger than everyone else, that just a few punches from him, even to someone twice his size, can render them incapacitated, John Wick actually appears to have taken multiple techniques from many different combat styles. As an ex-judoka myself, I was very excited to see our hero use many of the moves I learned as a youngster. He really has to work for his wins but that mixture of techniques, executed so beautifully and an apparent ability to shoot a moving target with pinpoint accuracy, makes you genuinely understand why John Wick is revered as such a legend amongst the other characters.
And finally to our hero, Mr Reeves himself. I’m going to go ahead and say it: Keanu Reeves has not always had the best reputation when it comes to acting talent. When placed in a role that really suits him such as Neo in The Matrix or Ted Logan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, he creates a legend. But when faced with a character a little different, often one requiring more emotional depth, he has visibly struggled with injecting the passion required to play such a role.
Having said all that, as John Wick, I believe he has excelled. He has charisma in spades here. He’s sullen and morose at times; cold and calculating at others; flat out funny at points; always with an underlying sadness hinting at the true tragedy of his character. As the film reaches its climax he shows a passion and anger that I personally, have never seen from him before -- I was pleasantly taken aback.
John Wick is a truly fantastic action movie. This is one of the best in the genre that I have seen in years. Hugely entertaining, thrilling, poignant and funny, with an excellent cast to boot. I shall be dragging all of my friends to the cinema. This one is not to be missed!