John Wick (Reeves) is forced out of retirement and back into the intense, murky assassin underworld, after the vicious son of a Russian gangster (played by Girl With a Dragon Tattoo’s Michael Nyqvist) and his thug pals take away the last of everything Wick holds dear. Wick does not stop until he gets his target.
Debut directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski bring their impressive stunt expertise (honed in the Matrix films) to the table, never shying away from actual choreographed sequences. They generally avoid employing the standard jerky camera movements and snappy edits to illuminate the action. What transpires is a far more invigorating experience, and our respect for Reeves’s physical prowess increases as the emphasis is on the actors to perform.
These engrossing stunts are played out in some strikingly lit shots that heighten the tense mood and surreal environment – take the club/spa shoot-out, for example, where Wick is on the prowl and very close to his target. The cinematography is at its finest in the film’s fantasy underworld of New York, complete with an elegant assassin bolt-hole called The Continental with its in-house rules, insider jargon and quaint underworld currency. It’s a wildly intriguing film noir existence dreamt up by screenwriter Derek Kolstad that has a lot of mileage to tap into for future John Wick tales.
Reeves plays the aggrieved killer like a wounded, poised predator, ready to pounce after the ultimate outrage is committed in Wick’s abode – cue audience yelps in horror. Initially, we have no idea how ugly Wick’s past is, but this atrocity plants us firmly in his camp. Reeves’s stoic stance is perfect in this role, keeping us guessing as to his every move – but you don’t have to wait for long.
The supporting acts each react to Wick’s presence in various, often ambiguous ways, all superbly cast, from Nyqvist as a satisfying caricature, old-school Soviet gangster, Viggo Tarasov, Willem Dafoe as fellow contract killer, Marcus, and Ian McShane as Winston, the shady but wise resident ‘godfather’ at The Continental. Alfie Allen offers the biggest surprise, as the cocky, sadistic Iosef (Tarasov Junior), almost unrecognisable in the part.
John Wick’s plot may be simple enough and smack of every kind of revenge/gangster flick trope out there, but there is something tangible and more sophisticated about this one, in both production and execution that makes it stick long in the mind after viewing. Wick may be an unlikely antihero, but one who will no doubt develop quite a fan base after this.