Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, Jason Isaacs, Adrianne Palicki
Rated: R (strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use)
An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.
By Matt Greene
John Wick is a lot of things. It’s an action thriller that starts with a jarring bang and never lets up. It’s a modern-day western over-run by black hats. It’s Refn’s Drive, only faster, louder, funnier, and wilder. It’s punchy and smooth, tough and violent, and refreshingly brash. It’s also relatively straight-forward and by-the-numbers…but if you’re gonna make a straight-forward, by-the numbers revenge thriller, take note: this is how you do it with hutzpah.
Reeves plays a grieving husband whose wife, as her dying action, gets him a puppy to cope with the loss. When some Russian thugs break into his house to steal his car and kill his dog, he goes on a calculated killing spree to exact revenge. It’s a corny, stupid premise that succeeds in part from Keanu’s own personal history and the genuine sweetness in the dog-owner relationship. It’s a fully formed universe of characters that we meet (the gangster hotel manager, the eccentric lobby boy, the good-natured dead-body clean-up crew) that nicely compliment the effectively awesome yet human Wick.
Sure, there are moments of exploitation, and some may think it’s just vengeance porn, but I disagree. The attitude of the film is pitch-perfect: it’s an angry film that doesn’t let its rage get in the way of its immense entertainment, and is never too serious for its own good. It perfectly balances the fast-loud with the slow-quiet. The non-linear storytelling, the sharp humor, and the portrayal of what happens between action scenes all give it a cool feel. Mindless entertainment? Maybe…but when something’s this excellent, who cares?
4.5 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
“John Wick” stars Keanu Reeves as a retired mobster pulled out of retirement because of a violent act against him made by those he used to work for. It’s the kind of vehicle you would imagine Liam Neeson to have starred in. The lead actor, though, isn’t the only thing more interesting than it sounds. The care, craft, and intentionality that clearly went into “John Wick” astounded me.
In an age where we are inundated with subpar revenge thrillers pretending like they are each the biggest, baddest things to hit theaters in some time, I found myself watching “John Wick”. It’s a gutsy gun-fu movie that fits somewhere in between the work of John Woo (“Face/Off”), Luc Besson (“Leon: The Professional”) and Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”). It’s existential in its reach, but exhilarating in its execution. With style layered on top of style and a surplus of self-consciousness, “John Wick” is what the cinemas exist for.
We think sometimes that cinemas exist for the next “Transformers” movie or the next loud, explosion-heavy epic saga of triumph, but really popular cinema finds it’s heart in thrill rides with sound storytelling and editing. It’s why we celebrate Hitchcock, Leone, Tarantino, and Nolan. It’s all too rare in a small-scale blockbuster today, but we can rejoice at the dawn of autumn as “John Wick” has saved American cinema from both Michael Bay-esque summer movies and Oscar-bait fall films with a true marriage of their strengths.
You won’t be more intelligent, more empathetic, or more socially conscience, but you will have a blast. That counts for a lot.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars