Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Film Review: John Wick (2015)

After John Wick (Keanu Reeves) loses his wife to a terminal illness, he receives a package that has been sent in the event of her death that contains her final wish: that he transfers his love for her to a small puppy and to carry on his life.  This symbolic gesture gives him a coping strategy for his mourning, yet is taken away from him when a gang of Russian thugs (led by Iosef – Alfie Allen) breaks into his house and leave him and his new best friend for dead.

When Iosef’s gang boss father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) finds out about his son’s reckless actions he has to inform him that John used to be an associate of his... that was an expert in ruthlessly killing people.  Whilst John prepares to get his revenge on the family, he checks in to The Coliseum – a kind of safe space hotel for criminals that operates by a strict formal code where favours are rewarded with bespoke gold coins:  Gold coins that can also be used to hire assassins or a dead body removal service...

Audiences may scoff at Keanu Reeves as a fairly wooden and one-trick popcorn-action star but films like John Wick work precisely because there exists well-trained action performers.  The martial arts influenced action fight scenes are a performance that only a handful of high-end actors can deliver, and although Reeves might not have the subtlety and nuance of emotion of a McConnahey or a Pitt, he is undeniably brilliant at what he does.  It’s interesting that when musicians and artists attempt to diversify their styles then audiences tend to accuse them of ‘selling out’, but when film actors stick to a single genre or style then they are seen as typecast and are castigated for it.  Is there really any shame in being one of the best simple action performers…?

The brutal precision in which Wick executes all of his victims (almost entirely headshots), the range of weapons that he uses, and the repeated overhead Grand-Theft-Auto style helicopter shots of the city all highlight the influence of video games on contemporary filmmaking – further highlighted later in the film through a character’s p-o-v shots as he plays on his PlayStation just before a climactic gunfight.  John Wick is a brilliant example of how the two genres are merging to create one medium with two expressions: interactive and passive action.  Anyone who plays next-generation console games knows that the cut scenes are increasingly photorealistic, whereas action films are forever borrowing and integrating the narrative and stylistic tropes of video games.  Some would argue that this has been happening for years (which it has), but I can’t help but feel like this generic overlap is getting closer and closer.

John Wick has been cruelly under-marketed in the UK and has mostly lost out to the turbo-charged action of Fast & Furious 7 (itself buoyed by the death of it’s star Paul Walker during filming).  But as no-nonsense unashamed action films go, it’s an admirable homage to the post-Matrix, post-Cold War, postmodern ‘90s American blockbuster.  Oh, and John Leguizamo is in it for about 2 minutes…

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