Keanu Reeves Proves He's Still Got It With His Latest, John Wick.
Directors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski.
Writer: Derek Kolstad.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen.
Playing At: Wide Release.
There's a real art to John Wick.
Even though the movie mostly just consists of Keanu Reeves shooting people in the face, new directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski turn the violence into something mesmerizing with this film. It's kind of what they've always done: The duo has collaborated previously on stunt work for such bone-crunching hits as 300, Fight Club and The Matrix trilogy. Here, though, they've choreographed the action into something that almost resembles ballet. No, there shouldn't be any comparisons to video games here. The action is too graceful, too smooth.
But it's not just the direction that impresses in John Wick. There's also the venerable Reeves, who's settling into the second stage of his career after more than two decades of interesting choices. John Wick may not be a bold character, but you have to give credit where it's due: This is definitely not something we've seen from Reeves before. There's a lot of grief and pain inside this ex-hitman, who comes out of retirement to seek revenge on the man (Alfie Allen of Game of Thrones fame) who killed his dog.
That's right. He didn't kill his wife. He didn't kidnap his son. He killed his dog.
And yet, somehow, that seems more evil.
And, as a result, John Wick wastes no time in sending its titular character on a killing spree. But rather than devolving into the repetitive, the directors find new ways to stage and frame these deadly encounters in a way that constantly feels fresh and exciting.
There's hints of some depth here, too. Ian McShane, who plays one of Wick's colleagues and the head of an exclusive resort for professional killers, is an intriguing character begging for more attention. There are also cameos from two alumni of The Wire (Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters), and they both make it look like being part of a league of assassins is just like joining the Marriott Rewards program.
But Wick is the film's clear focus. Well, that and the body count he accumulates in his mission. And, fortunately, there's some comic relief to break up the grim overtone.
Props must also be given to Dean Winters, best known as Mayhem from those Allstate commercials, who plays here the right-hand man of the big bad Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). He supplies most of the film's non-violent comic relief: Whenever Viggo starts mumbling in Russian about the Boogeyman coming for them; Winters just deadpans “English, please” or tries to excuse himself while someone's getting tortured.
It's surface-level stuff, sure, but it's enough to give a little substance to what's otherwise one of the most stylish films of the year.
And it's enough to remind us that Reeves is still a compelling lead.
If that's not “Whoa!”-worthy, then I don't know what is.