By Laurie Coker
Going into Keanu Reeves’ return to screen film John Wick, I knew what to expect. The film’s trailer spells out the premise clearly, and while I am not a hardcore fan of bang, bang, revenge thrillers, I am a fan of Reeves. The film adds little to the genre in characters, storyline and theme, but director Chad Stahelski’s unique, stylized shots and extreme action sequences make it stand out. Reeves, now fifty, too, brings a dark and austere intensity to his character in a way only he can.
John Wick, just days after burying his wife, finds himself pulled back into to his life as a hit man for the Russian mob, but working not for his former boss, but rather going after him. On the day Wick receives a gift of a puppy from his wife, who died of cancer, his car is stolen. Not so ironically, the culprit is the idiot son (Alfie Allen) of his former boss Michael Nyqvist. These heartless thieves beat Wick and kill his dog (Yes! I covered my eyes and plugged my ears). With nothing to lose, Wick sets out to seek revenge.
From lead to inept henchmen, every character in John Wick is stock. It is, however, the actor’s performances that make them exciting and interesting to watch. Reeves seethes hatred and vengeance, making him a pleasure to watch, but Wick is no more than any other man seeking to settle a wrong. Allen plays perfectly as a disappointment in his world, and Nyqvist offers the cool and stoic demeanor necessary for a ruthless businessman and a disheartened father. Reeves, with a strong ensemble cast backing him and Stahelski at the helm, John Wick manages to feel different.
Stahelski’s suspenseful, stylistic shots of corridors, rooms and streets create extreme, exciting and yes, entertaining sequences of chases, bouts and murder. I’d like to see him direct something with more substance, because he kept me engaged in what is little more than a series of bloody killings and vicious fights. He infuses an ample amount of wit with action, keeping things all the more engaging and interesting. Where other directors and cinematographers fail at lighting dark scenes enough, Stahelski’s style adds clarity and strength to each sequence.
I don’t see the need to explain the film’s R rating. It’s good to see Reeves at it again. He looks good – so much growth and time since his debut as the dopey, lovable teen in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I am placing a B- in my grade book. Even though the puppy (as opposed to say a wife or an entire family) was the catalyst of revenge, I didn’t like it.