Set aside your doubts and see this subversive, highly entertaining film. A lot of people die, yet it proves to be a delightful action film that finds a way to be charming.
With John Wick, Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have brought us a tantalizing action film that entertains on multiple levels. Uber violent and filled with a macabre sense of humor, Keanu Reeves hasn’t been this appealing since the three Matrix films (1999-2003).
I should also note that Hollywood has rediscovered the value dogs bring to films of this genre. In this year’s The Drop, Thomas Hardy discovers a small, bleeding dog in a trash can that he attempts to save while an unknown menace lurks nearby. Here, Mr. Reeves plays the title character, a man who is immersed in anguish over the recent death of his wife. Soon after the burial, UPS delivers a small dog to his front door with a note from his late wife, and the pup accompanies him everywhere until tragedy strikes that is difficult to watch.
Having lost his dog, the true identity of John Wick is revealed, and he is not a man who anyone should anger. An ex-hitman who quickly discovers his momentum, his singular goal is to hunt down the thugs who reduced his dog to a tragic memory.
Mr. Reeves is at his best when he plays a laconic, sweet-tempered powerhouse who views pain as an unavoidable fact of life. As John Wick, he is on the trail of Middle Eastern gangsters who clearly understand that something wicked is about to descend upon them.
Despite the violence, the plot is wildly amusing in unexpected spots. The lead villain is played by Michael Nyqvist, who many of you will remember from his sterling role in the foreign version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films (2009) where he played Mikael Blomkvist. Here he plays the leader of a group of thugs, which includes a son (Alfie Allen) who made the mistake of thinking that Wick’s dog was insignificant. Nyqvist is a talented actor, and I can only ask you to imagine Marlon Brandon’s Don Corleone finding humor in nearly everything, including death.
The film is also immensely helped by supporting roles from Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo and the impeccable Ian McShane. They are all edgy characters, and Mr. McShane is terrific as the owner of an exquisite hotel that Wick frequents. McShane does not oppose killing anyone as long as it is not done in his impeccable establishment.
But the hidden treat that will capture your attention comes from Adrianne Palicki, here playing a nasty young woman simply called Ms. Perkins. Stunningly attractive, she is a sworn enemy of Wick and will fight him like a sheep-killing dog if given the opportunity. Ms. Palicki’s display of girl power ranks up there with Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games Series (2012-2015); Evangeline Lilly in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013); Zoe Saldana in this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Gina Carano in Haywire (2011).
Let me also say that you should see this film in a theater that has a great sound system. I saw John Wick at the IMAX, and the musical score by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard is a knockout from beginning to end. There are moments where the music coincides with the opening of car doors and trunks, and there is an incredibly hot scene in a dark, exclusive nightclub where Wick stalks his prey while intermingling with dancers.
Yes, violence can be a turnoff for many, but it can create a superb film when done in a provocative style. I’ll close with the observation that the script occasionally produced some noticeable laughter in the audience as they watched Wick seek vengeance, so find a way to take it in.