JOHN WICK is a sleek and unrepentant film about revenge and redemption. Set in a parallel world to ours, one populated by criminals who live by a strict set of rules, conventions, and etiquette, it is a dark fantasy of violence in which the hero isn’t the pacifist, it’s the guy who really loves his dog.
That would be the title character, played with smooth precision by Keanu Reeves. The script cleverly introduces us to him as the grieving widower who has tenderly kissed his wife farewell on her deathbed and is marking time rather than living until his wife’s last, and posthumous, gift arrives in the form of a puppy. Take my advice, don’t get attached to the dog. In a confluence of bad timing, worse placement, and unexpected fluency in a second language. Wick is stripped of his prize vintage car, and of the puppy. We in the audience don’t get a whiff of who Wick really is until the mention of his name makes a hardcore Russian mobster (Michael Nyquvist) blanch. Blanch he should when he learns that it was his rash (read idiot) only son (Alfie Allen) that ran afoul of Wick, and that Wick, before he retired, was the one the mob sent out to take care of its most impossible missions. And so the fun begins.
Wick systematically and relentlessly takes out everyone between him and his target with cool detachment and quick thinking. It should be pointed out that it’s only the people who try to stop him who are in trouble, and that sense of honor, coupled with his mission to kill a man who killed a dog, makes him less efficient killing machine than avenging angel.
Puckish black humor spikes the action as Wick goes about his business. Papa becomes increasingly discombobulated, sonny boy becomes increasingly petulant, and fellow assassins for hire show their true colors. The killing is exuberant in inventive, and the secondary characters, puppy included, are vivid. There is something wonderful about sonny boy scampering about wearing only a towel, a gun, and a look of panic as Wick closes in, or the way Ian McShane as the referee in the Continental Club, where no “business” may be conducted, enforces the establishment’s rules, and his minion, Lance Reddick, the imperturbable concierge with supremely elegant manners . In any other film of this ilk, they would steal screen, but Reeves’ intensity prevails The way the man threads a belt through his pantloops is intimidating. And who knew he looked so good in chiaroscuro?
The pace is brisk enough, the writing clever enough, to keep the stream of carnage from becoming monotonous. It’s so sly in its build up the final momentous confrontation that the raging thunderstorm that accompanies it is not hokey, but absolutely necessary.
JOHN WICK is the real world through a funhouse mirror, reflected back darkly but with gusto. Bold, startling, and a thumping good time.