Title: John Wick
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo & Willem Dafoe
Produced by: Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria & Michael Witherill
Reel Talk - John Wick (2014)
January 7, 2022
by Brendan Da Costa
It’s ruthless. It’s relentless. It’s remorseless. It’s Reeves at his best. 2014’s John Wick might be the best shoot ‘em up action film of all time.
When the spoiled son of a Russian mobster destroys his last chance at happiness, legendary contract killer John Wick comes out of retirement to exact revenge.
John Wick is one of those rare action films that offers more than just valueless violence. Even though it is, at its core, just another revenge flick with lots of guns and guts, writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski created something that feels fresh and fun.
“… Reeves dials up the emotion and applies tonal inflection to devastating effect.”
Stahelski brings to life Kolstad’s highly-stylized underworld of contract killers and criminals with a distinctive style that is, for his directorial debut, a stunning display of verve and vision. Stahelski combines the best elements of neo-noir, mob movies, Westerns, kung fu and anime to create an action experience that is unlike anything that audiences have seen before.
Kolstad’s writing is tight. It’s not just that he makes quick and quippy use of dialogue, but Kolstad also keeps the plot as narrowly focused as John Wick’s aim. Cinematographer Jonathan Sela, takes his cue from Kolstad and Stahelski and stays squarely on target. Sela used vivid, sharp images and smart frames to create a visual style that is appropriately evocative of the narrative-focused visuals found in comic books and graphic novels.
“… Stahelski combines the best elements of neo-noir, mob movies, Westerns, kung fu and anime.“
To be sure, the unique feel that these filmmakers gave to John Wick won’t jive with all audience members. But then, one would have to imagine that these would be the same audience members who would have scoffed at a film like 300.
Trying to find an actor to fit into John Wick’s tailored suit would have been a real challenge if Stahelski hadn’t previously worked with Keanu Reeves on the Wachowskis’ The Matrix trilogy. It’s not so much that Keanu Reeves delivered a solid performance as it is that he was simply extremely well-cast for the role of John Wick. His patented acting technique—what we might call facial expression minimalism or monotonal line recitation—is perfectly suited to the dry humour and merciless violence of John Wick’s underworld.
However, that’s not to say that Reeves doesn’t impress. In fact, John Wick is probably his best outing and could very likely be the role for which he is most remembered—The Matrix’s Neo is just a little too work-a-day as a heroic figure. On more than a few occasions, Reeves dials up the emotion and applies tonal inflection to devastating effect. Those scenes are all the more poignant in juxtaposition with Reeves’ usual one-note delivery.
However, the fact that Reeves was, for the most part, just a great casting choice shouldn’t diminish his performance in audiences’ eyes nor dampen their experience in watching the film. Reeves did have to put it in more than just a little hard work—he learned three new forms of martial arts including Brazilian jiu-jitsu—in the making of John Wick and his training regimen has, in the intervening years since the film’s release, become a form of entertainment all its own. The results of Reeves’ work are evident in every blood-soaked action sequence and he can be proud of that.
“… Reeves was, for the most part, just a great casting choice.”
In age of filmmaking when audiences bemoan the prevalence of remakes and the prolonging of tired franchises, John Wick is a rare taste of originality. With three films in the franchise and another two in the production pipeline, only time will tell if audiences tire of the outré experience that is a John Wick film.
Furthermore, as with the Mission Impossible franchise, it’s not clear that this box office action juggernaut would be capable of outliving its star. Fortunately, Reeves isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. For the fourth and fifth films, however, studio big wigs at Lionsgate decided to part ways—amicably—with the architect of John Wick’s underworld, Derek Kolstad. Only time will tell whether or not Kolstad imparted enough of his genius to his brainchild for it to outlive his involvement. He left it on solid footing so audiences can only hope.