John Wick

 

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 DesperadoKick-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.

Daire Walsh

16 (See IFCO for details)
101 minutes

John Wick is released 10th April 2015

John Wick – Official Website

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Cinema Review: 47 Ronin

  47ronin_a                                                      

Dir: Carl Rinsch  Wri: Chris Morgan, Hassan Amini Pro: Pamela Abdy, Eric McLeod   DOP: John Mathieson  DES: Jan Roelfs • MUS: Ilan Eshkeri • CAST: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi

 

The 47 Ronin of the title are a group of disgraced former samurai who attempt to reclaim some honour by overthrowing a ruthless shogun who has taken over their city and avenging the death of their master. The story is a popular piece of Japanese folklore. This film throws in fantastical elements such as dragons and witches and also Americanises the tale somewhat by adding in a character of a ‘half-breed’ played by the distinctly un-Asian Keanu Reeves.

Given the oddness and potentially disrespectful nature of this set-up and the fact that this mega-budgeted film was directed by a first-timer in Carl Rinsch, it seems as if it had already been decided, prior to anyone seeing the film, that it was a disaster in the making. The fact that the film is headlined by the often unfairly maligned Reeves has not helped this peculiar-sounding picture’s cause with public and critical consciousness. While the film is certainly not particularly good, it is also not the disaster some wags had tipped it as.

 

The film is consistently fairly nice to look at and the film’s impressive visuals are only mildly hampered by the annoying 3-D.  Reeves is fine, allowing Sanada take the limelight as the film’s real protagonist. The film’s action is a bit stilted and while in terms of frequency and body count, the film is exceptionally violent, the bloodless nature of said violence (likely as a result of the film aiming for a PG-13 rating in the States) leaves one feeling a bit numb as opposed to it having any visceral affect. This also raises questions as to who the film’s audience is. The fantastical elements seem designed for children, yet the film has a brooding, meditative quality that would likely alienate a younger audience. One suspects that the filmmakers had a serious-minded approach to the material in the hope of avoiding accusations of the film being disrespectful to Japanese culture. Yet this seriousness sits uncomfortably alongside B-movie and child-friendly attributes, leaving the film’s overall tone to be one of deep uncertainty.

 

At 120 minutes the film is also vastly overlong. While the first hour or so is reasonably diverting, one does find themselves rolling their eyes and shuffling in their seats as the second half of the film progresses.

 

Ultimately the film manages to be both fairly unusual yet largely uninspired. One almost wishes it was the disaster people expected it to be, as then it might have at least made some lasting impression on those who watch it.

David Prendeville

12A (See IFCO for details)

118  mins

47 Ronin is released on 27th December 2013

47 Ronin – Official Website

 

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