Fantastic Fest Review: To Put It Simply, 'John Wick' is F'ing Awesome
by Jeremy Kirk
September 22, 2014
John Wick is awesome. That statement is direct, to the point, but it could not be more appropriate for the film it's describing. Keanu Reeves latest action vehicle is a simple movie with simple ideas, but that isn't keeping it from being one of the most exhilarating, balls-to-the-wall action movies to come down the pipeline in a long while. It's the kind of movie that leaves you both exhausted by the whirlwind of epic action it offers and completely amped for more ass-kickery. Action junkies have been waiting a long time for a movie like John Wick, and no one will end up going home dissatisfied with all that it delivers. Read on!
Reeves plays, you guessed it, John Wick, a former hitman who has left his violent life behind. Wick's life isn't as peaceful as he would have hoped, though, as his loving wife falls ill and succumbs to her illness but not before getting her husband the gift of friendship in the form of a puppy. Again, Wick is no longer alone in his life and able to face his grief with a warm companion at his side.
Unfortunately, that life Wick left behind isn't finished with him. When the son of a Russian mob boss sets the former assassin in his sights - not knowing the true nature of this bringer of death - Wick is again thrust into tragedy, the adorable puppy becoming yet another victim in his life. So much for grief. It's time for revenge, and who better to exact flawlessly epic revenge than a man as deadly and accurate as John Wick.
The film was co-directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, first-time directors who began their cinematic careers in the stunt world. A vast array of action films ranging from Blade, The Matrix trilogy, and Speed Racer are only a few whose stunts the two men can take credit for. As is often seen with stunt workers moving into direction duties, the stunt work found here is as creative as it is seamlessly executed. Every gunshot fired and every punch landed is presented with maximum visual assurance, the kind of nonstop action that leaves the viewer continuously winded.
Derek Kolstad's screenplay doesn't allow much time for John Wick to get bogged down by frivolous story developments or extended moments of exposition. On the contrary, much of the dialogue in the film is as simply stated as its basic premise. There's a no-nonsense attitude in every turn John Wick makes, sometimes delivering ample amounts of understanding about the world in which it's set - a perfect real-life idea of Sin City where everyone is connected to the criminal underworld - with a grunt or a casual expression. "He'll kill me," says one of Wick's adversaries as the protagonist is trying to draw information. The lead actor responds with a simple, "Uh huh," and that's enough.
Reeves, too, is simplifying his role down to the most basics of the character, John Wick being a man of few words and even fewer movements. He's just so pristine and accurate in all of his movements that wild, unnecessary gestures are tossed aside for efficiency. There are still plenty of opportunities for levity, Reeves bringing a little light out in the actions of the super-serious character. You can tell he had ample amounts of fun playing the part, almost as much fun as we have watching him play it.
Supporting players bring their own juice to the party, Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe having loads of fun playing fellow assassins who inhabit Wick's universe. Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Lance Reddick handily fill bit parts that are given a decent amount of importance. "Game of Thrones"' Alfie Allen plays the sniveling son of the Russian boss with the perfect amount of attitude, as well, but it's Michael Nyqvist as that Russian boss who appears to be having an absolute blast portraying a main villain with an insane character volume. A perfect '90s action villain always hits the soft spot of an action fanatic's heart, and Nyqvist gives the part the exuberance it needs.
You can say the same for John Wick as a whole. Never a movie that tries to be more than it is, it steamrolls over any flaws it may have in story or character with effervescence. The tiny amount of downtime the film takes only serves the purpose of taking a breath before the next onslaught of insanely intense action stunts and wildly incredible set pieces. It says little, shows a helluva lot more, and, to put it succinctly once again just to drive him the point, John Wick is fucking awesome.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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