John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an ex-hitman grieving the loss of his wife and now lives a life of complete solitude, but one day a letter from his departed love arrives with a canine companion to ease him through the loss. However when a hot-headed young Russian gangster (Alfie Allen) steals his car and kills his dog, Wick sets about tracking him down to get his revenge.
It’s interesting that this movie should come out so close to the release of Run All Night – similarly a film about revenge – what is more interesting though is how much better John Wick is compared to Run All Night. What John Wick lacks in plot twists or hidden meaning it makes up for in a coolness that is extremely difficult to create on screen.
Keanu Reeves has received much criticism in the past for his acting (and deservedly so) but it cannot be denied that there are certain roles he suits perfectly. John Wick is one of these. He does dark threatening hardman extremely well, and possessing a face that doesn’t really convey emotion works to his advantage terrifically. I honestly can’t imagine this film working half as well with a different actor at the helm.
Actually the opening first 15 minutes of the movie could set itself up for a fall, because what most of this time is taken up by is various Russian mobsters and friends saying the name John Wick and looking worried, then explaining their expressions. It all builds up Wick to be this unstoppable force of nature that a little voice at the back of your head tells you the movie won’t be able to convey. But it really does. Reeves kicks, punches, and shoots his way through some uncountable number of unnamed suited bodyguards, and then almost every character who isn’t on his side. It is rare that a film feels quite this satisfying the whole way through.
I do have a niggle with just one scene involving a pool which I felt slipped into the territory of sleazy exploitation cinema rather than the stylish crime thriller that the rest of the movie is. But this is a very brief moment and it happens to be surrounded by possibly the most striking action set-piece of the whole thing.
Overall, the makers of Liam Neeson’s next outing really should be taking notes because this is how ex-hitman revenge movies can be done. It carefully treads the line between taking itself too seriously and becoming a joke, and embracing its own ridiculousness too much and becoming a spoof. A thoroughly enjoyable suspenseful thriller.