The “TL: DR” version — I loved the hell out of this!
AMBER LOVE 01-NOV-2014 It seems the theatres are filled with a variety of movies that look really good right now: GONE GIRL, THE JUDGE, NIGHTCRAWLER, BIRDMAN, and even DRACULA: UNTOLD. I had seen some tweets of high praise for JOHN WICK starring KEANU REEVES and decided that it looked like the kind of movie I could enjoy without stress. Except for DRACULA, all the other movies I mentioned looked like very intense or at least extremely emotional stories. I don’t want to deal with that in a theatre necessarily. BOY WAS I WRONG!
Obviously you can look up all the details about the director, writers, the cast, the composer and the crew on IMDB. Every single person involved must’ve outdone themselves with this one and deserve all the overtime if they get any. I was surprised by a few people involved once I saw the credits rolling. First was that the first producer named (I’m pretty sure) was Eva Longoria! I didn’t know she had done anything besides acting and truth be told, I hear more about her personal life than her career. That’s all she’s ever been to me is a “who is she dating/marrying?” headline. So I was floored when her name came across the screen.
Then, after seeing the entire movie, I didn’t even recognize that Ms. Perkins was played by new AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. co-star ADRIANNE PALICKI. It was great seeing her get a decent role on AoS as Mockingbird and finding success after the much-maligned Wonder Woman role she briefly had; but I watched all of JOHN WICK and hadn’t even recognized her. I’m the person that does fall for the Clark Kent disguise. You change a woman’s hair color and I have no idea who she is. I’ll get into more about the Perkins character in a bit.
I don’t want to spoil every bit of the plot. I need to talk about some of it in order to explain why I find it better than any of the superhero movies I’ve watched lately. Yes, that includes THE AVENGERS. Even though the full cast was enormous with hitmen, bodyguards and hotel employees, the fundamental core of the cast was John, Viggo the boss, and Josef the boss’s son; and supported by a reasonably sized group of Marcus, Ms. Perkins, Avi, Aureilo, the hotel manager, and Charlie the cleaner.
JOHN WICK is an action movie about hitmen in the Russian mafia and freelancers who take on contract killings. Wick himself is a man of few words. In fact, the entire dialog portion of this 1 hr 41 minute script is probably about only ten pages of it. There are some really good comedic lines and all of them delivered well. Let me tell you, those soundbites of comedy were absolutely needed to balance the heartbreak and violence. It could have come across as some smartass Deadpool dialog but it was clever, meaningful, and as I said, delivered on point. I’m surprised Joe Pesci wasn’t in this (if it was Italian instead of Russian, he probably would have been) but he might’ve brought way too much to those lines. It was handled delicately like everything from the Russian to English text overlays to the stunning costume choices. Oh, and the cars! Droolworthy cars.
So when I thought I was rewarding myself with a mindless gun-porn movie as a prize for having two good days of writing, I did not expect to be sobbing through about a third of it. That starts within the first 30 minutes and some people have already spoiled it online. I’m not going to. Just know John’s wife’s death seems like the inciting incident but it’s not. It’s what she does postmortem that is the catalyst for the action. During all the crying I was wishing for two things: a date that I could lean into and three fingers of scotch.
JOHN WICK has a simple revenge plot that feels deeper than the biggest blockbuster, star-studded superhero flick ever could. Simple and pure. It was a relief. It was something I personally needed as someone who just watched the HUNGER GAMES sequel CATCHING FIRE and think all those movies have to offer are snazzy costumes because they are impossibly shallow and boring. Mind you, I’ve never attempted TWILIGHT. JOHN WICK, however, takes a Bond style villain, Viggo and pits him against the hero that Viggo calls “baba yaga” the slovak boogeyman which to me, was always a female forest witch. (*Baba Yaga is an old woman that lives in a house with chicken feet. She doesn’t have chicken feet, the house does. So I was intrigued by Viggo’s version of baba yaga as being the Russian “boogeyman” that parents would threaten their children with in order to get them to go to sleep.)
JOHN had once been employed by Viggo so their relationship had substance. Also, the hitmen follow a strict code of conduct. During John’s shooting sequences, it felt like it had been a first person shooter and you were John Wick. The movie follows some rules: John wears kevlar; He’s not indestructible like John McLean in DIE HARD. When he gets hurt, he bleeds. He also runs out of bullets and needs to reload or pick up a different weapon. When there are no firearms, it turns to mixed martial arts. John is vulnerable. We meet him when he’s at his lowest. His wife has died of some disease (cancer, I presume) and she knew her death would be coming so she planned to leave something for him. Viggo is also vulnerable. He knows he has one son that does as he is told but the younger one is a party boy that lives off daddy’s wealth and connections to constantly be decadent. The trouble begins when Josef does something very stupid. The car he steals belongs to John Wick but he doesn’t stop there; Josef commits the act that brings John out of hitman retirement. That moment when chop shop owner Aureilo calls Viggo is one of the many priceless moments. The actors don’t need to say a lot of lines to get the importance of what happened through to the audience.
The Continental Hotel is “base.” Do you remember playing tag and having one place that was “base”? It was where you were safe no matter what. JOHN WICK was scripted in a way, like I said that has gaming elements. Not only do you have action so close to Wick that it almost feels FPS, but you can also tell the rules were set up by a game master/designer. Why can’t I shoot someone in the hotel? Because someone said so. It’s like Keanu’s CONSTANTINE when he goes into Papa Midnight’s club – there are rules. It’s a neutral ground. Of course, rules were made to be broken and that’s how the acts transition.
In comes Ms. Perkins. She’s a femme fatale played beautifully by Palicki. However, there’s no need for Perkins to be a woman. There’s no reason for her not be a woman either. The cast of hitmen include tertiary characters that are African-American so why not have a white woman thrown into the mix? I guess, but it felt forced to me. She was fine. She can fight. But therein lies my issue. Perkins as a character felt like a man with a vagina and breasts. Her femaleness offered nothing but tokenism. The non-white characters included John Leguizamo as Aureilo the chop shop owner, a couple of black hitmen with great lines, and the extremely classy hotel manager (Lance Reddick from American Horror Story, Fringe, and The Blacklist).
We started with John down pretty low. He quickly learns that there’s even lower. As all heroic stories go, he makes a glorious comeback! Then he’s knocked down again and instead of the villain (Viggo) issuing the single bullet that would end the story, he does what all ego maniacal villains would do in a BOND movie or anything other — he ties up his prey, transports him to a lair, and goes into a soliloquy!
I don’t have to explain what happens after that, do I? Of course not. You’re bright enough to know the hero escapes. That’s not even a spoiler. Another mechanism that I felt surpassed what modern video games and some superhero movies offer, is that John’s weapon skills were so honed, no innocent bystanders were ever harmed. None of his shots looked wasted even if the target ducked out of the way. He had two killing styles. The first was a thoughtful and targeted kill of someone after him first. The second was the personal targeted kill. Those kills were done up close. He looked into his target’s eyes and he made the murder process slow. He wanted them to know it was personal and that it was him bringing them to their ultimate demise.
To summarize, Keanu Reeves delivers the best performance I’ve ever seen him give. I’m no Reeves expert and haven’t seen his entire body of work but based on THE MATRIX, CONSTANTINE and BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, I will say this is hands-down a work of art. He doesn’t speak much. He has a few lines of witty dialog and a monologue against the villain about his purpose in seeking revenge. His expressions are fabulous. And the Luca Mosca costuming department with the hair styling team made Keanu actually attractive to me. I had always thought he was “pretty” but way too thin and “weak” looking despite all the martial arts he performed. He looks like a badass grown up man in JOHN WICK.
Also thumbs up the “Mayhem” guy, Dean Winters for his plucky sidekick role to Viggo the villain. He’s more than an insurance company spokesman, folks.
The JOHN WICK images came from IMDB.