As far as slice-of-life movies go, John Wick is pretty irresistible.
R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Well, okay. A slice of John Wick’s life is slightly different from the norm. A slice of his life includes several pounds of flesh from the lives of others. After all, John’s a ridiculously skilled, top shelf assassin. Retired, but an assassin’s blood runs deep.
Sure, John Wick is one mighty bloody affair, but it’s also pure in its blood lust and disarmingly slim in its plot line. Witness the pared down dialogue as the Russian patriarch learns of his own son’s stupidity. The lack of words go far in expressing the legendary means of John Wick.
This is one of those movies that knows exactly what it is. And what “it” is, it is very, very well. It’s smart enough to know the silliness of its premise, and smart enough to simply go for it.
You see, at one point John retired from the fast lane. He got married. He was deeply in love. But his wife died (of natural causes) and, in anticipation of her own demise she arranged to have a puppy delivered to John after her passing. Her intent was to give him a companion with which to grieve.
Light the Candle
Enter the shamelessly flimsy plot.
A random encounter with Russian mafioso in New Jersey sparks a vicious chain reaction. A spoiled brat named Josef envies John’s car, a ‘69 Mustang. John refuses to sell.
Josef and his brood break into John’s house.
They steal his car.
And they kill his dog.
John Wick, played with a nice mix of charm and grit by Keanu Reeves (The Matrix), lives in a crazy world with its own code and rules. Members of this assassins underworld pay each other with gold doubloons and they have their own lingo. Making a dinner reservation is a euphemism for ordering body bags; catch and release is a little more straight forward.
And don’t forget that business is never, ever conducted at the Continental. The penalty for breaking that rule is quite severe.
Old School, New Time
To a certain extent, John Wick feels a bit like an old-school Chuck Norris movie from the ’80s. Lone Wolf McQuade comes to mind. Characters drawn from an iconography, a shorthand way to cut to the chase, literally and figuratively. Indeed, Chuck himself might very well kowtow to John.
While there might be a trace of Norris in the DNA, John Wick is fully a child of the new millennium. Slick cinematography and editing move this entertaining piece of catharsis along at a brisk pace. And it’s worth pointing out this action flick is co-directed by two stunt men making their directorial debuts, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, with movies including The Matrix and 300 on their collective stunt resume.
That alone says plenty about the mindset behind the scenes. But, sure, John Wick isn’t everyone’s shot of Vodka. It’s gratuitously violent and there are many wince-inducing scenes.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with the sexy glossiness of John tearing up a pool in the basement of a very hoity-toity Manhattan night club. Soothing pop music plays softly in the background while mayhem rages in the foreground. It’s not just style over substance; there’s quite a bit of vicarious enjoyment to be had.