John Wick (USA, 2014)

John-Wick-UK-600x884Directed: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Apparently these are the guys who did stunts with Keanu for the Matrix. So that’s pretty cool, right? Honestly, I just couldn’t resist, I don’t know why. Maybe I’m more of an action movie guy than I thought, but it got good reviews, and a few friends recommended it, and maybe, deep down, I have a soft spot for Keanu. Poor Keanu gets a lot of shit, mostly stemming from a popular belief that he’s a dumb guy and a bad actor, but I think that this attitude is one of those widely-disseminated beliefs that people just take on without thinking, in order to fit in with the tribe, like the belief that Bob Dylan is just a “bad singer” or that Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. If you look at the facts, he’s actually got a solid filmography, and this brings us back to my point a few posts ago about my proposed Robert Carlyle Syndrome, where an actor I thought was great based on a great performance in a great film turns out to be not that great based on a bunch of not great performances in not great films (even though I’ve softened my stance on poor Robert Carlyle over the years, and recognized that he’s just doing what he can do with the roles given him). So maybe Keanu Reeves Syndrome is the opposite error of letting a couple of “whoa dude” moments and a kind of glazed-eyes look to his acting keep us from appreciating all of the cool stuff Keanu’s done. Take a look at his filmography—not bulletproof, but there’s some really neat stuff there. For every one of his embarrassing, fake accent movie like Dracula or Much Ado About Nothing, there’s a few genuinely great roles in interesting and offbeat movies like My Own Private Idaho and Feeling Minnesota, or great offbeat sci-fi movies like Johnny Mnemonic or A Scanner Darkly. And say what you will about the Matrix movies, but he did a good job with them, and they’re like a modern day Star Wars with the impact they had. At the moment, it’s hard for me to gauge this particular movie without accounting for the context—couched in the middle of a bunch of Liam Neeson idiot macho action movies. This is certainly a lot more violent than most Liam Neeson movies, and more graphically so. This is a classic action film, where the plot is set up for the audience to align themselves with the protagonist, to feel good about the protagonist’s unrestrained, indiscriminate (or slightly discriminate) unleashing of violence, and to sit back and mindlessly watch the protagonist unleash that violence for two hours. And to be fair, the film does its legwork here, it doesn’t cut corners on its narrative set-up. Unlike a lot of action movies, I actually gave a shit about the protagonist, he actually felt human, and that’s all on Keanu and his acting. This role didn’t require much, but he delivered. And actually, to be really fair, there’s a pretty big disconnect between the transgression and the trail of vengeance that this movie is (his wife died of cancer, and to help him move on, she willed him a puppy dog, and the Russian gangsters killed his puppy dog, and now he’s seeking revenge for the dog and the symbolic significance of the dog and his dead wife, etc etc). This is a pretty convoluted, specific, and potentially alienating back story to justify two hours of nonstop killing, but there’s something about Keanu, that combination of his puppy dog sad guy face that he does so well, combined with his pure chops as an action star, that to me made a good foundation from which to follow the mindless violence. And overall, the characters were all pretty well fleshed out and not cartoonish villains—the Russian mob boss and his son felt like real people, even when this sleek, sophisticated underworld seems a bit of a stretch. The action sequences were really well done, great fun to watch, and this movie was a dream for actor-spotting for a geek like me. The casting director must have seen all the same TV shows I’ve seen: the gangster kid was Alfie Allen, or Theon from Game of Thrones; the relatively meek assistant gangster guy was Dean Winters, the super badass O’Reilly from Oz; the head of the underworld hotel place where Keanu stayed was the incredible Ian McShane from Deadwood; Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters (Daniels and Freamon from The Wire); and John Leguizamo adding a bit of heft to a little throwaway role (like the last time I saw him in The Counselor). So I don’t think I’d call this a smart action movie, but it’s not an overly dumb action movie, and that’s saying a lot these days.

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2 responses to “John Wick (USA, 2014)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: John Wick: Chapter 2 (USA, 2017) | Offhand Reviews·

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