Retired from the criminal underworld that once cherished and rewarded him; a hitman wanting to settle down with a regular life that he feels he more than deserved; locking his instruments of death underneath layers of concrete that he hopes never to use again. A sudden tragedy enters into his life when his wife slowly perishes away from his ideal life, an illness that sent him to such mourning and grief that it physically and emotionally destroyed him, a vulnerability that many of his associates have never seen. A final gift arrives at his doorstep from his late wife, a dog delivered with a card that penetrates him and reminds him that this troubling phase he finds himself in would soon pass.
The essence of John Wick is given to us in a nutshell that requires little verbal explanation; it is presented to us with quiet visuals of the titular character at his rawest, a lonely man who remains in silence, slowly coping day to day with his trusty and loving canine companion. It is here that Chad Stahelski manages to find footing through intrinsic development, withholding the unnecessary elements that routinely plague the leading men of the action genre; almost inspired by the likes of recent films like Drive or The American. The film forces audiences to connect with the figure through active participation, which is something films sorely need as of late in the Blockbuster genre.
The plot begins to motivate when three young Russians stumble upon him and his car, led by Iosef, the son of New York’s Russian crime syndicate, showing admiration for the vehicle and asks for a price; a query that John immediately shut down. Insulted by this, the three Russians enter into his home, terrorising him, stealing his car, and murder his dog; thus setting in motion the revenge thriller that this film promises itself to be; one that immediately recalls the premise of Road to Perdition, minus the drama between the leading man and his son.
In his journey, we begin to discover the notoriety that came with his name; a frightening scare that ran through the bones of Viggo, Iosef’s father, when he is immediately informed of his son’s actions. Wrath begins to rise underneath John, awakening the destructive soul that he once donned, deeply desiring the revenge that would justify the crimes against him. As he lunges himself back into a world he once proudly left, the film explores the criminal world of New York with such style that actually finds logic in its excessiveness, revealing the luxurious safe house for its professional hitmen titled the Continental Hotel, where order and refuge is established for its catered guests. Many films consider the setting that surrounds its characters simply for aesthetic purposes, but in John Wick they become significant in the way we perceive its inhabitants, hence adding texture to vessels that we could easily dismiss as one-dimensional.
When the film finally reveals John in action, it plays itself out with intelligence that many of its peers fail to capture, unable to ‘walk the walk’. The film could have easily played its protagonist out as a god, walking through its path with its barriers obliterated through every step, but his long departure from the world and profession has definitely shown the rust in his abilities, making mistakes that further delays his goal to kill. It is in the way he enters the field and scans the room, taking them one by one that maintains incognito, that is until the unexpected arrives and changes his plan to face his opponents head on, and it is through these moments that the film begins to flourish as even in the midst of chaos, he still manages to maintain his composure and be direct in his executions, aiming for the head instead of the delaying death from an abdomen or limb injury; and this does not only apply to John, as his peers take on a similar tactic, attempting to reach their goals as quickly as possible.
It is in the film’s first hour that it wins my affection due to its layered outlook of its titular character and methodical, but stylish, violence; however in the last 30 minutes or so, the film begins to reveal its compromises, taking on a traditional route that familiarly has its antagonist delay the protagonist’s potential death through required intimate exposition and a final fight that abandons the gunplay and respectfully clash through their fists; it all becomes too artificial for me to remain deeply enthusiastic towards the film.
John Wick acts as an eye opener for many of us, who over the years have forgotten his contribution to the industry, whom has recently begun to venture behind the camera, possibly narrowing the possibility of further acting opportunities; but this was a performance that I could probably never forget, second only to the memorable effort he brought to the Matrix franchise, capitalising on his ability to perform as a quiet and almost poetic actor, both Reeves and Stahelski realising the potential that comes in his subtleties and the intrusiveness that carries with excessive dialogue. Although there were a couple of moments that the film does force the character to spit out one-liners and exposition, which did contribute partly to the lack of extreme enthusiasm I could have had with the film, but thankfully it wasn’t enough to completely dampen the experience, it remains respectful and loyal enough to its established aesthetic that even at its heaviest banter, the film doesn’t completely crumble.
John Wick is possibly the strongest action thriller to come out of recent years, acting as a bridge between Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Luc Besson’s Taken that would certainly leave both sides of the audience spectrum pleased.