Although it’s really not much more than an under-achieving version of Mel Gibon’s entirely entertaining Payback (1999), Keanu Reeves’ hitman-comes-out-of-retirement to get revenge thriller John Wick does deliver some wickedly funny, IMAX-sized moments of mayhem. First, the trailer and then 5 things I liked about it:
1) Stunt casting on a budget: Willem Dafoe and John Leguizamo turn in fine, if really short, performances. Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters, best known (at least to me) for their stellar turns in The Wire, add more weight.
2) Somewhat realistic gunplay: at times, the movie resembled a first person shooter viewed from the side, as Reeves’ character Wick dispatched his enemies with extreme prejudice. But the directors insisted on accurate bullet counts; this was not a movie in which the hero has an unlimited supply; Wick was shown constantly and realistically reloading, or conserving shots, or improvising when out of ammo. Dynamic, crowd-pleasing action.
3) Dark humor: that’s really the only way a hitman-gets-revenge flick is going to work for mainstream audiences… someone has to have a sense of humor about it all at some point. The audience I saw it with in Southern California, misfits all no doubt, were cracking up watching Wick mow through the bad guys.
4) Plain as day plot: yeah, this was no M. Night twister. Dude was done wrong, digs up his box of badass tools and goes hunting. Kind of like a Liam Neeson revenge flick, only instead of saving daughters, Reeves was avenging a puppy. She was a cute little thing, though.
5) A glimpse of the underworld: the movie took place in a very special part of New York City, where regular folk are not allowed and criminals and gangsters are the mainstream. They even had their own currency. Very slick.
John Wick was directed by two first-timers, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, both of whom have significant experience as stunt coordinators and second unit directors. Stahelski was actually Reeves’ stunt double in a number of films, while Leitch was stunt double for the likes of Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Their work on Wick is solid, but far from what we at VOH would call Visionary. But the movie is a highly enjoyable crowd pleaser that should do decent domestic box office… at least until something better comes along.
My VOH votes for Leitch and Stahelski: In The Lobby.
If John Wick is directed by two stunt guys handpicked by Keanu Reaves, would that make it an example of a movie made by an “Actor Auteur” like with the various Tom Cruise vehicles that litter Netflix?
“Litter Netflix” lol. But I think you’re right. When you have an actor with a track record of generating over a billion dollars of box office, things get done differently, I suppose. Love them or hate them as actors, both Cruise and Reeves pack ’em in the seats, so the studios are pretty content to give them quite a bit of free reign. Keanu’s last big movie, 47 Ronin, was also directed by a first-timer, Carl Rinsch. Before that, Reeves directed himself in Man of Tai Chi, and the year before that, another first-timer (Mark Mann) directed him in Generation Um… (what?). Since his work with Coppola in Dracula and Kenneth Branagh in Much Ado about Nothing, Reeves has somehow escaped working with the biggest names in Hollywood. Probably a reason for that.