Ah, Keanu Reeves. For a long time, I foolishly dismissed him as just a mediocre wooden actor, and I still consider his performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula a crime against cinema. With time, I learned to appreciate his unique onscreen presence and a peculiar blend of masculine and feminine qualities; he might not have the greatest range but he’s a fantastic physical actor and in a right role, his performances are truly iconic. John Wick is one of those perfect vehicles for Reeves’ particular set of talents.
The plot is simplicity itself: John Wick is a retired assassin with a legendary reputation, who seeks vengeance after a bratty son of a Russian gangster (Alfie Allen) and his thugs steal his car and kill his dog. The adorable puppy was a last gift from John’s wife who recently passed away from terminal illness. So John digs up his old guns, and proceeds to kill a shitload of mobsters. The end! I bet to myself by the way that, although he mows down countless men, our protagonist will not get to kill the movie’s only female assassin, and of course I won the bet.
Though it’s basically a simple revenge thriller, John Wick does some neat world-building along the way, my favourite detail being the Continental Hotel, a posh place that caters exclusively to the criminal underworld and strictly forbids “business” on its premises. The fine manners and courtliness of the hotel make for an amusing contrast to the brutal violence. The film is also populated by a bunch of colourful characters played by some top-notch actors, including Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tarasov, the head of the Russian crime syndicate and the father of John’s target, and Willem Dafoe as John’s old mentor with murky loyalties.
In the short “making of” featurette included on the DVD, everyone involved was heaping praise on Keanu Reeves for his commitment to the role, and it really shows onscreen as he moves through the masterfully choreographed carnage and gun fights with style and physical grace. It’s refreshing to see carefully designed action scenes without nauseating shaky-cam. While the movie gets an A for action, cinematography and Keanu Reeves’ cool and charismatic lead turn, the “Russian” mobsters get a D- for their attempt at Russian dialogue, which I found often incomprehensible and cringeworthy as hell. I also give the filmmakers a D for their half-assed research of the Russian folklore; sorry but Baba Yaga does not translate as the Bogeyman in English.