Thursday, November 20, 2014

John Wick: Just When I Thought I Was Out...

John Wick: Keanu Reeves stars in Derek Kolstad's story - directed by Chad Stahelski's | A Constantly Racing Mind
L ast year Keanu Reeves ("The Matrix," "Speed") made "47 Ronin." The film was a critical and box office disappointment. The story was one of revenge based on a historic event from Japanese history. Sadly, the film was effects heavy but a narrative that lacked a certain amount of coherence as the producers tried to shoehorn Reeves into the story as a half-breed hero. This year Reeves is back with another revenge flick, and this time he doesn't disappoint. It's been a while since we have seen an action film that features some real decent Gun Fu. Perhaps we could count some scenes from Tarantino's "Django Unchained," or perhaps going back to 2010's "Kick Ass." In "John Wick" close quarter combat hasn't looked so good since Christian Bale's Gun Kata scenes in "Equilibrium." "John Wick" is an hour and forty minutes filled with action, a straightforward and compelling story, and some beautiful choreography and a decent body count.

John Wick is a former Hit Man for the Russian Mob. He miraculously left the business and got married. Five years later, his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan – “Battle LA”) dies from cancer. The best years of John’s life are gone; however, knowing that she was dying, Helen buys her husband a small beagle puppy by the name of Daisy. The dog is delivered to John the evening after her funeral. At first, the two are guarded, but John eventually warms up to the gift from his wife. The next day while out getting supplies for his new friend, he stops and gets gas. While filling up his 69 Mustang, a young thug named Iosef played by "Game of Thrones’" Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), hits John up about buying his car. John, of course, tells him that it's not for sale. Iosef tells John in Russian "everything has a price." John tells him that he doesn't have a price, and he says it in Russian. Later that night, Daisy has to go to the bathroom, and John follows her downstairs. In the dark, five guys in hoodies ambush John. They beat John with a baseball bat and Iosef steals the key to his car. Oh yeah, they also kill his dog. Iosef is the son of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist - "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") a Russian Mafia boss who quietly runs a good portion of the city. When Viggo finds out his son has stolen John's car, he punches his son and tells him that he just made the biggest mistake of his life. John Wick is the Boogeyman. He isn't an assassin per say, as Viggo explains; he is the man that he would send to kill the assassins. John can do the impossible when it comes to killing. 

A man who has lost everything has nothing left to lose and has no problem losing himself in the single-mindedness necessary to fight an all-out war on the mob. Keanu Reeves is back in action hero form as Wick. Derek Kolstad's ("The Package") script introduces some interesting characters. Kolstad only fleshes out Wick's character leaving the rest thinly defined relying on archetypes instead. Willem Dafoe ("Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant") plays Marcus, an assassin and a potential ally or a potential foe. We meet Marcus after Helen's funeral. He comes to the cemetery in the rain to see how John is doing. The thing with the characters that Willem Dafoe plays is that there is always some ambiguity as to what side he is on. After declaring war on his former boss, he knows that Viggo will send men to kill him -- and he does. Later that night, the hit men arrive at John's home, all ninja style. John waits for them in the dark and in a ballet of bullets with John spinning and throwing his targets he claims a quick victory. Afterwards, John calls a cleanup crew as he makes dinner reservations for 12.

John Wick: Keanu Reeves as John Wick and Daisy | A Constantly Racing Mind

The stunt work is incredible in this film and there is a reason for it. First time director Chad Stahelski was Keanu's stunt double in "The Matrix," "The Matrix Reloaded," and "Constantine." Stahelski started in the film industry doing stunts in the early nineties. In fact, he was Keanu Reeves stunt double in "Point Break." Other interesting characters that Kolstad and Stahelski introduce are Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki - "Legion") as a female assassin who doesn't mind breaking the rules, and Charon, the manager of a hotel that caters exclusively to assassins. The Continental Hotel is owned by Winston and played by the charismatic Ian McShane ("Hercules"). He warns John that conducting business on the premises will incur heavy fines. The manager of the hotel, played by Lance Reddick ("Fringe") is both ominous and mystical. Named after the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron in Greek Mythology, Reddick is accommodating to Wick yet retains an aura of otherworldliness. The Continental is in a sense a limbo of sorts.

Much of the action takes place in a nightclub not far from the hotel. As mentioned before, the gunfights are a wonder to behold. Throughout the close quarter battles, John uses a form of the center axis relock system of firearms handling that provides the character with greater stability and maneuverability as he takes on each of Iosef's bodyguards.

As far as the story goes, Wick's motivation for going to war on the Tarasov crime organization is not because of the death of John's dog. Like the 1999 revenge flick "Payback" starring Mel Gibson, the motive is not so much vengeance, but principle. In that film, Gibson's character Porter takes on the Chicago mob because they have $70,000 of his money -- half of what he and his double crossing partner stole from him and gave to the mob. Here the dog is an extension of the emotions and love that he had for his wife, and his wife's love for him. Although John's dead wife is a total cliché, Kolstad twists it slightly to give John a slightly different reason for rage. You could say that "John Wick" is cliché ridden would be an understatement. But that doesn't detract from the entertainment value. Filled with foul language, gore, and violent scenes, "John Wick" is popcorn munching good time. If you aren't able to catch Keanu at the theater, make sure you check him out on Blu-ray or DVD.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring:  Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane
Director: Chad Stahelski
Producer(s): Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Chad Stahelski, Mike Witherill, Keanu Reeves (executive producer)
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Rating: R
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: 10/24/2014

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