The latest Keanu Reeves vehicle is a stunner. John Wick boasts a high body count—and offers cinematic proof that you shouldn’t mess with a man’s best friend.
In the film’s opening moments, we learn that the title character (played by Reeves) has lost his wife, and he’s taking it understandably hard. Shortly after her death, a little pet carrier arrives at his door with an adorable beagle inside: His wife has given him a gift of companionship from the beyond, and it’s a very sweet moment. The scenes of Wick and the dog bonding help make him a likable character.
While John Wick is putting some gas in his sweet Mustang, a young Russian man (Alfie Allen) asks if he can buy the car. Wick groans that it is not for sale. His unwillingness to part with the car results in tragedy, as the Russian mob comes to his house, beats him to within inches of death, kills the dog and takes the car.
They’ve messed with the wrong guy. Wick is a former hired assassin with a bunch of weaponry and gold buried in his floor. We learn that Wick is known around town as the Boogeyman, and the asshole who stole his car has a father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who once employed Wick. Viggo lived in confidence that Wick was retired and out of the game. Now, his son has killed the Boogeyman’s dog, and all involved, voluntarily or not, are going to face his wrath.
That wrath consists of some of the greatest choreographed carnage in recent movie memory. Wick shoots bad guys with a precision that protects the innocent—but anybody around with a criminal background is going to die.
A couple of stunt guys—David Leitch and Chad Stahelski—make their directorial debuts with John Wick. Stahelski has actually been a Reeves stunt double many times, in the Matrix films, Constantine and Point Break. Their familiarity pays off, because the stunt sequences and choreography are flawless. In the pantheon of action-movie directing debuts, this one stands tall.
Reeves is an actor who has taken a lot of shots over the years. True, he can be pretty darned terrible at times, but he has a strong command of himself in front of a camera. There’s a scene in this movie that may contain the best acting of his career. Wick is a character who doesn’t exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a simmering sort, but once pushed to a certain level, he shows some mighty powerful rage. Reeves is very much up to the task.
It’s also very clear that Reeves does much of his own stunt work in the film. There’s a lot of rolling around, and numerous gun dances. He’s always been a capable action star, and his physical outing here is as impressive as his work in The Matrix series. (OK, the first one. Screw the sequels.)
The screenplay adds some nice touches, including an exclusive hotel for assassins run by Ian McShane. The place is like an artists’ loft, except the inhabitants paint with blood and brains. When Wick gets his stay violently interrupted, the calm calls from the front desk and visuals of criminals sleepily sticking their heads out their doors to see what’s going on are quite funny.
Willem Dafoe makes a nice mark in a few scenes as a double-crossing hitman. Adrianne Palicki, the actress who was supposed to be TV’s Wonder Woman (until NBC saw the pilot and puked), shows action-movie chops as another gun-for-hire who can’t be trusted.
John Wick is a great-looking movie that mixes in some strong emotions with awesome set pieces. It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves back in the saddle. Now, with the success of this film, perhaps somebody will finally green-light Bill and Ted 3.
John Wick is playing at theaters across the valley.