In a movie where it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad — there are no good guys — “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski faced a challenge. He had to find a way to win over the audience to his title character.
That’s not easy considering John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is such a brutal and sadistic bad guy that he’s the guy all of the mob bosses call when they want to get rid of their own killer. Stahelski quickly found the emotional conduit (I don’t want to give it away), so even the coldest hearts will be on board with Wick’s search for revenge.
With the audience on board, all the director had to do was worry about making the carnage as dramatic and explosive as possible.
Reeves turns in one of his most intense performances playing the retired contract killer. Once he’s forced back to work, the only thing that can stop him from getting total revenge is running out of bullets. Reeves brings just the right amount of killing tenacity, tempered by a five-year absence from the job, to make Wick formidable yet slightly vulnerable.
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The screenplay by Derek Kolstad is loaded with leaps of logic. They aren’t as blatant because Stahelski never lets the action slow down. This is a film built on body counts.
The horror unfolds in a world that borders on fantasy, where bad guys live by a strict code of conduct, cops are as hard to find as unicorns and it’s never sunny.
Because Wick is such a stone-cold killer, it takes an equally strong opposing figure to give the balance. Michael Nyqvist plays the crime boss shot for shot with Reeves, a perfect way to pace themselves to a battle royal ending.
A small weakness is that Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe play characters that are deeper than Wick, yet there’s no time to see more of their stories.
It would have been nice to slow the pace occasionally, especially when Wick checks into a hotel that caters to killing professionals. It’s an interesting sanctuary for a group that doesn’t believe in an escape for their targets.
But this is a film that lives and dies by the gun, so there’s little time for distractions. “John Wick” is pure escapist action fun. The only thing deep about this offering is the stack of dead bodies that keep filling up every scene.