With 152 stunt credits and no directing experience, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski seem like unlikely candidates to direct “John Wick.” The film is pretty forward, confident and intentional; the two men have put together the most polished action film of the fall. With a light fantasy element and a sharp and deliberate aesthetic, there’s a lot to love about John Wick.
In contrast to 2008’s assassin film “Wanted,” with its bizarre inclusion of an old timey supernatural loom, fantasy in John Wick is a societal fantasy. It feels like the assassins are almost unionized. The fantastical social fabric of unspoken codes, assassin “shop talk,” and even a special assassin currency adds some sinew to the bare bones story.
Keanu Reeves plays title character John Wick with a dialed back coldness. The movie gets us on his side early on. John Wick has fallen in love, he’s happy! Before long his wife dies, leaving him a dog and a letter that helps him come to terms while he grieves. These private moments however might not work for some viewers. This reviewer thought they were just enough. In either case the more indulgent headshot laden sequences work just fine even if there was hardly any emotional connection with Wick.
Alfie Allen plays greedy crime prince Iosef Tarasov who steals John Wick’s second true love, his 1969 Mustang. What’s more, he kills the cute puppy which became Wick’s only companion. The move prompts Wick to kill.
Leitch and Stahelski let us see everything. The choreography is top notch, and as far as I could tell it was all Reeves all the time. Fans of action films will enjoy the roll ammunition plays in Wick’s various assaults. A few great moments revolve around Wick multitasking a goon’s shoulder ligament into an ungodly position while reloading. He is swift for such a tall guy. Another particular highlight is a sequence that starts in a basement bath house and bleeds into the nightclub housed above it. The thumping bass and kinetic light show rages around Wick as he stalks through the crowd.
The many contrasting areas have a distinct feel. From Wick’s modern home tucked away outside the city, to the secret underworld bar that assassins frequent. The visual sheen leaves an impression. The films is a big break for cinematographer Jonathan Sela who gets to show off his versatility.
The polish that makes this action film work extends to the supporting cast. Everyone is great; from Willem Dafoe as Marcus, an older assassin who has a history with Wick. Adrianne Palicki plays Ms. Perkins, a cold killer, with believable venom. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick play the owner and operator of the hotel that houses the secret assassin bar. Every character in this film at some point reacts to John Wick. Every one of those reactions tell us just how impressively dangerous John Wick can be. In the hands of this cast, what could have been camp is elevated beyond competency and into the good times stratosphere.
If this is not enough of an endorsement, John Wick also has the number one action hero phone call scene of all time.
John Wick is now playing at AMC Mayfair and Marcus Cinemas.