John Wick is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and stars Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Alfie Allen, Michael Nyqvist, and Willem Dafoe.
In anticipation for this film’s sequel being released this weekend, I decided to take a free night to revisit this film, (one I hadn’t seen since it’s 2014 Blu-ray release.) I was surprised to rediscover not only how incredibly well-made this film is, but how it simultaneously is one of the best action movies of the past decade. The film centers around John Wick (Reeves), an ex-hitman who is left a gift by his dying wife. When influences of old re-enter his life, he is drawn back into the world of hitmen-for-hire on a quest for vengeance. From there ensues a tangled web of money, mobsters, and murder. Yeah, a lot of bad guys die in this movie. Cue the montage music.
The one thing that constantly stood out to me while watching John Wick was its incredible sense of balance. This film is a quintessential action romp, full of incredibly shot and choreographed action sequences with masterful stunt work. Yet, at the same time, this is a well-written film full of fascinating characters, powerful undertones and themes, and a sense of world-building that adds more layers to the universe that this film takes place in. Rather than either of these extremes overpowering the other at any point through the 104-minute runtime, directors Stahelski and Leitch take the time necessary to build each element respectively and blend them together for an incredibly unique and satisfying payoff that isn’t common in many action films nowadays. The action sequences in this film are expertly crafted, with precise tracking shots over the usual trope of quick-cut editing and finite sense of direction fusing seamlessly, along with wonderful stunt work (which is no surprise seeing as Leitch is a famous stunt coordinator who worked on The Matrix (1999)).
Keanu Reeves, while likable and given a strong and clear motivation does at times seem a little constrained by the film’s sillier dialogue (it is an action movie, remember) and doesn’t always give the most noteworthy performance, despite being a damn intimidating on-screen presence. In fact, the entire cast, while functional, feels rather subservient to the progression of the film itself, and there really is no standout performance. In addition, the last 15 or so minutes does feel a little rushed and mixed up, which was a little jarring considering how well the first two acts had been written. However, when examined closer (especially in relation to the world-building aspect and the film’s ending) these 15 or so minutes clean up quite a bit on repeat viewings.
While not perfect, John Wick is still, in my opinion, a cinematic achievement and a refreshing feeling of new life breathed into the action genre. The structure and cinematography blend with the masterclass stunt work to give us something truly unique, and just makes me all the more excited to see this film’s sequel this weekend. John Wick gets a B+.