With Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick. Written by Derek Kolstad. Directed by David Leitch, Chad Stahelski. Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. 101 minutes.
JOHN WICK is an entertaining action film which seems to be taking place in an alternate universe. While we’re told that it’s set in New York and New Jersey it seems more like the first-person shooter video game one of the characters plays. Not only is there a good deal of gunfire, but it’s a world that seems to be set up specifically to accommodate such things.
Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a former hitman for Russian mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). He retired when he fell in love and got married. His wife has succumbed to a fatal illness at the start of the story, and he is working through his bereavement. A chance encounter with Viggo’s son Iosef (Alfie Allen), leads to Iosef and his friends brutally attacking Wick and stealing his car. We start to get a sense of how different this world is when we see the reactions to this from Viggo to a chop shop owner (John Leguizamo in one of the film’s several interesting cameos).
Borrowing the plot from “The Road To Perdition” (2002), the film shows Wick getting his vengeance while Viggo, furious at the stupidity of his son, nevertheless has to protect him from Wick. It’s here where we start to see the strange world of this film. When Wick takes out a dozen thugs who’ve come to kill him, he orders a “cleaning service” which takes care of the mess and disposes of the bodies, paying for it with special gold coins.
Then he heads to a hotel that caters exclusively to professional killers, with the unflappable concierge (Lance Reddick) letting him know that a doctor is on 24-hour call to handle bullet wounds and such. Another gold coin gets him into a private nightclub overseen by the owner Winston (Ian McShane), who reminds him that no work is to be done on premises. Meanwhile, Viggo has taken out an “open contract” on Wick, so colleagues like Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) are chasing after him.
This leads to a lot of carnage where, amazingly, no innocent bystanders are hurt. Wick takes out almost the entire security team surrounding Iosef at a more public nightspot, sustains serious damage himself, and yet no one else is shot. Oh, and the police are nowhere to be seen except for one Jersey cop who shows up at Wick’s house, takes in what’s happened, and wishes Wick a nice evening.
As an actor, Reeves has been accused of having a limited range. This isn’t quite fair, but it works to his advantage here. His stoic, expressionless appearance is perfect for Wick, a stone-cold killer forced to pick up the tools of his trade that he thought he had–literally–buried for good. As the father and son, Nyqvist and Allen get to show some emotion, nearly all of it negative. When Viggo smiles, that’s when the people around him really have to start worrying.
“John Wick” has a quirky style that makes it more than just another action film. It is a dark, violent fantasy that probably has more gunfire in it than any other movie out there at the moment with the exception of “Fury,” and that one is set during World War II. That ought to tell you all you need to know about what to expect here.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.