‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie John Wick is a slick bit of absolute violence with more than a hint of film noir. The body count is incredible, yet it is done so stylishly that individual deaths barely matter. Once the film really gets going, about 20 minutes in, it is a nonstop ride of killing that keeps you focused throughout. Yes, it is a B movie. It does not aim all that high, but it easily reaches its goals.
The film opens with a grieving John Wick (Keanu Reeves) trying to get on with his life after the illness and death of his beloved wife (Bridget Moynahan), seen only in flashbacks and on a brief video on her husband’s phone. He gets a last gift from her, delivered after her death — an adorable puppy. Her note says she knows he needs something to love to be able to go on. Shortly thereafter, Russian punk Iosef (Alfie Allen) sees Wick driving in his 1969 Mustang, demands he sell it and, when refused, comes back to Wick’s house that night, beats Wick, kills the puppy and steals the car.
When Iosef brings the car to a local dealer, the owner slugs him. The punk’s father Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), who heads the Russian Mafia in New York, calls the dealer to demand to know why. “He stole the car and killed the puppy of John Wick,” was the answer, and the father curses. It turns out that Wick is also known as the “bogeyman,” the most feared assassin around and a former colleague before he left to spend time with his late wife. Viggo calls out an army of followers to take out Wick, but he has reverted to type. He kills a dozen goons and, in a wonderfully stylish scene, calls in a special cleaning service to remove the bodies and blood, paying them with gold coins.
The rest of the film is his battle for vengeance. What makes the film more fun is its quirks. He checks into the Continental Hotel in lower Manhattan, where he is clearly recognized and reminded that it is forbidden to do “business” on the premises. He again uses gold coins, a unique system. One gets him into the hotel’s nightclub, where the owner, Winston (Ian McShane) gives him a hint where Iosef might be found. That leads to a battle in a very private Russian sex club where the body count rises, although somehow Wick stops for a few seconds before shooting at Iosef, who escapes. Wick has another fun scene where he storms into a Russian Orthodox church that is doubling as a headquarters for the mob boss, who uses its basement as the place to store all of his blackmail items. Wick tosses in firebombs. He later wipes out a large group at a Brooklyn warehouse, killing Iosef. Shortly thereafter, his more or less ally, Marcus (Willem Dafoe), is beaten and murdered by Viggo, and Wick then kills Viggo, who puts up more fight than the 50 or more younger thugs Wick has previously wiped out.
Reeves is excellent in the role, just about always cool. It helps keep the mood somber and intense. Killings are done so quickly that they lose their meaning. The rest of the cast is also excellent. Nyqvist is an interesting thug, smarter and more self-aware than most are usually portrayed. McShane gave a stylized performance that somehow worked. I particularly liked Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins, a nasty assassin, who learns the hard way that the hotel means it when the management says no business should be carried on within the premises. Oh, and the dog that started it all was adorable.
There were, of course, holes in the plot. The father could have called Wick, apologized, gotten him a new dog and maybe let him beat the daylights out of the kid as a lesson. But then there would not have been a movie.
Nevertheless, the action is great. The mixture of choreographed fighting and killing along with extreme stylish touches works well. Chad Stahelski, one of two directors, was a stunt double and knows how to make fighting seem real and exciting.
For those who like tough-guy movies, this one’s for you.