I don’t see a lot of movies in the theater. As a result, I try to use my Netflix queue — yup, still have the disc subscription in addition to the streaming one — to remind myself of what newer movies I want to see. But, as anyone with a queue knows, these things wind up acquiring hundreds of possible films, many of which get sent and then sit around for weeks.
I’d sat on a movie like that for an embarrassing amount of time and vowed to watch the next film with a quickness. That turned out to be the 2014 Keanu Reeves movie John Wick directed by Chad Stahelski. A lot of people told me how good this film was, so I was interested in what I came to know as “the dog revenge movie.” I actually followed through, popped the movie in and got about 25 minutes in before the disc got all skitchy and I had to send it back.
After getting my replacement, I finally sat down to finish the film and have some thoughts. If you haven’t seen it, the movie’s about the Keanu’s title character whose wife dies, but arranges for him to get a puppy after she passes. Unfortunately, some gangsters see them both out with his vintage Mustang and want the car for themselves, so they beat him up, kill the dog and make off with the car.
That’s about where my viewing stopped the first time around which meant I was saddled with all of the emotional weight of a revenge film without any of the cathartic violence until my second attempt. What you don’t know until around that time is that John Wick’s a legendary badass and that this wannabe gangster (his dad’s the boss of the family or whatever) just royally screwed up by raising his ire.
From there you get a series of awesomely bullet-ridden and bloody scenes wherein Keanu carves his way through a legion of suited hoodlums, blasting them away with a kind of laser focus that only comes from plenty of experience. These scenes are cringe-worthy at times, cheer-worthy at others which makes them aces in my book. At the same time, they feel real because of the aforementioned efficiency, but also the restraint used in the mix by making the punches sound like regular punches and not Indiana Jones’ firework jabs.
Keanu’s great at making me believe he’s damaged and hurt, but also incredibly good at this particular job. Except for when he TALKS about how sad and mad he is. When he starts talking about how the dog represented hope or whatever? Not so much. Maybe this is the difference between letting your actor simply act and making him say things that ultimately become redundant after the audience sees the performance. I’m far more interested in seeing him smolder than verbally explode about these things. Or, hell, maybe it’s just a little silly to hear a grade-A badass talk about his puppy.
The rest of the cast is all-over great, though. Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo and Adrianne Palicki all play various criminals who know and work with Wick. Then you’ve got Michael Nyqvist as the heavily burdened papa gangster and Alfie Allen as his incredibly dumb son. Nyqvist probably gives the performance of the movie as he ranges everywhere from incredibly confident and superior to the depths of betrayal and regret.
Since it takes me so long to watch these things, there’s already a sequel out for this movie, cleverly titled John Wick Chapter 2. It’s the same director and I hear it picks up right after the first one, so I’m curious to see what happens, especially if it expands on the John Wick’s world. A huge part of the fun for me was seeing all this business with the coins and the hit-person hotel and their secret club. Then again, I’d also be down for a sitcom starring McShane and Reddick as the proprietors of that hotel/club Golden Palace-style, so maybe I’m biased.