Review: John Wick

2
80%
80
Excellent

Stylish, gritty, and fun. It may not have the best plot, but this is how you do an action film.

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John Wick is anything but subtle, hammering at your senses with almost continuous, high-octane action. The first fifteen minutes introduce its eponymous protagonist (Keanu Reeves) and set up the story – in short, John Wick is an ex-hitman who gets drawn back into the criminal underworld to get revenge after his dog is killed by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of a mob boss. Once that’s out of the way, director Chad Stahelski jumps straight into the action, ramping the film’s pacing as high as it can go and more or less maintaining the same intensity for the next hour and a half.

Managing to combine stylishness with efficiency in the film as a whole, and gritty realism with outrageous fun in the action sequences, Stahelski has created something that is effortlessly entertaining. John Wick will grab you and hold your gaze with a torrent of fantastic action sequences, all strung together by brief flashes of humour and a pumping, energetic score.

The acting is solid throughout, with Reeves’ characteristic detachment working well in a film so obviously focused on fitting as many action set-pieces in an hour and a half as possible. It is Alfie Allen who shines, however, stealing all the scenes with a swaggering self-confidence and capitalising on any and all opportunities to make his character as dislikeable as possible.

The problem with the film, though, is its focus on including as much action as possible, which extends so far as to exclude pretty much anything else. The story is simplistic to the extreme; everything is stripped to a kind of barebones state, leaving no opportunity for any real characterisation, which runs the risk of there being no engagement with the characters or the events which unfold on the screen.

If the action weren’t so well-crafted (almost to the point of flawlessness), the lack of story or characterisation here would ruin the film. But that doesn’t happen – the film is engaging and it achieves exactly what it set out to achieve. Had there been a bit more to it, John Wick could have been a masterpiece; what it is instead is an excellent action flick, and one of the most fun films to be released this year so far.

John Wick (2014), directed by Chad Stahelski, is distributed in the UK by Summit Entertainment, Certificate 15.

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A 3rd year English student who likes staring at all the pretty moving pictures. Also books, I suppose. I do take English after all

2 Comments

  1. avatar
    George Seabrook on

    Firstly I think the film is excellent. I don’t love it as much as some people do, probably because I’ve been spoilt by great action recently before this latest one came out. I do totally disagree with you about its lack of characterisation. Story and characters don’t need to be complex or necessarily ‘deep’ to work. They need to be felt. Stahielski knows that, so he goes for the basic things so that he can catapult everything into gear, but he does take his time to set it up, to line everything into place. Killing the dog is simpe, but it’s so effective. He also brings in loads of great actors to do walk-through parts, and they help sell the world and the story.

    Keanu isn’t ‘detached’, he’s a really good actor, who is very used to playing things cool. Those opening 15-20 minutes are so engaging and great because I bought his pain. He sold the grief and sadness.

  2. avatar

    I don’t think the film is let by down a lack of “deep” characterisation, but really by any at all. Yes, the world-building is interesting, and it adds a kind of unexpected, very welcome enjoyment, but that doesn’t make me care about most of the important characters. It’s cool that people like Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist are in it, but their characters are these cookie-cutter action characters; replace them with lesser-known or accomplished actors and I still wouldn’t care about what happens to them.

    With Keanu, I wasn’t using detachment as a criticism, I love detached Keanu and I think his style is quite perfect for a film like this – it just would have been nice to see the emotion he shows in the first fifteen minutes somewhere else in the film.

    As for the dog: it’s not effective, it’s simplistic in a bad way. It felt like Stahelski was trying to avoid the tired “my wife has been killed now I’ll take my revenge” plot – which is good – by just replacing the wife with a dog. That’s not good, that’s lazy, and it leaves you with a film that feels a little ridiculous. The only reason I think John Wick is as good as it is is because Stahelski does kind of embrace the ridiculousness of his plot, or is at least happy to ignore it.

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