DIR: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch • WRI: Derek Kolstad • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Chad Stahelski, Mike Witherill • DOP: Jonathan Sela • DES: Dan Leigh • Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan.
For several decades, there has been a great tradition of movie stars juggling their acting careers with musical interests. Will Smith, Juliette Lewis and Jared Leto would be notable examples, but there are some Hollywood A-listers who have made slightly more obscure contributions to the music industry.
The Toronto-raised Keanu Reeves would fall into this category, as many people would be blissfully unaware of his past experience as a bassist with alternative rock band Dogstar. With just two albums to their name over an 11-year period (1991-2002), they were a fairly unremarkable group, but they gain some form of media coverage during the mid-’90s, when Reeves opted to tour with them rather than reprise the role of Jack Traven in the widely-panned Speed 2: Cruise Control.
When you consider the reception afforded to this ill-conceived sequel, this seemed like a wise move on Reeves’ part, though it would have been interesting to see how he may have fared opposite Willem Dafoe as the movie’s principle antagonist.
However, 18 years on from this near collaboration, Reeves and Dafoe finally share the screen in the frenetic John Wick. Working under the direction of his former stunt doubles, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, Reeves feels at ease in the titular role, and this helps to make it his most satisfying film in a number of years.
When we are introduced to Wick, we discover that he has recently lost his wife (Bridget Moynahan) to an unspecified illness, and has received the posthumous gift of a Beagle puppy – named Daisy – as a way to help him through the grieving process.
Initially, he struggles to make a connection with his new companion, but eventually understands the significance that he can bring to his world. Further tragedy awaits for Wick, though, and when he refuses to sell his car to Russian gang leader Iosef (Alfie Allen), he breaks into his house, steals his vehicle and brutally kills his dog.
In an unfortunate turn of events, it turns out that Iosef is the son of New York-based crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), who Wick previously worked for exclusively as an assassin. Because of his cold-blooded efficiency, he was nicknamed Baba Yaga (“The Boogeyman”), and as he fulfils his lust for vengeance over the course of 101 blood-splattered minutes, we realise it is a title that has been well-earned.
Taking inspiration from a wide range of genres and disciplines (including the gun fu technique utilised to considerable effect in films like Desperado, Kick-Ass and the Reeves-starring Matrix trilogy), John Wick has a body count that would put Taken to shame, and although there is an element of repetition moving into the final act of the drama, the film’s fast-paced nature ensures that it never becomes a lingering problem.
An extended nightclub fight sequence is a particular highlight, as is Wick’s bruising encounter with former acquaintance Ms Perkins (deliciously played by Adrianne Palicki). Both of these set-pieces take place in a hotel called The Continental, which is an establishment occupied solely by assassins.
It is ideas like this that helps John Wick to take flight, and if the reported sequels are to materialise, there is certainly plenty of creative scope for Stahelski and Leitch to develop interesting ideas. The impressive cast list also bodes well for their future projects, and despite making fleeting appearances throughout, Dafoe, Ian McShane and John Leguizamo all provide dependable support.
Nqvist (probably best known for his lead role in the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) is a menacing presence in a film that is largely shorn of good guys, but as the movie’s eponymous anti-hero, Reeves makes a welcome return to form.
While he has never been an actor noted for his range (in spite of a filmography that includes several comedic roles and a major part in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing), he has chosen a number of characters that are tailored to suit his stoic qualities.
Johnny Utah, in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult classic Point Break, showed that he had credentials as an action star, while in addition to the box-office successes of Speed and The Matrix, he found his feet in Richard Linklater’s visually-dazzling A Scanner Darkly.
It is perhaps unlikely that John Wick will enjoy the lasting appeal of his most popular films (some of the dialogue and plot contrivances are ropey to say the least), but when you consider some of the misfires he has had throughout his career (2013’s 47 Ronin failed to break even upon release), there is a certain pleasure in seeing Reeves returning to familiar territory.
16 (See IFCO for details)
John Wick is released 10th April 2015