I've been making the case for many years to anyone who would listen (no one would listen) that Keanu Reeves is one of our great modern action stars. I make this argument because a) I have always been a fan of Keanu Reeves and b) he has been the lead in three of the best action movies of the last 25 years, possibly ever: The Matrix, Speed and Point Break. There are those that might argue that it's a coincidence, or that Reeves is not the reason those movies work -- that he happened to star in great action movies, not that the action movies were great as a result of his participation. Hopefully those doubters were silenced when Keanu made his directing debut last year with Man of Tai Chi, a wonderful and loving tribute to martial arts movies that's also a completely kickass action movie. Reeves proved that he knows his shit -- that he doesn't just love action films, but that he can speak the language (the fight scenes in that movie are better directed than most of what comes out of Hollywood these days). I was right. Keanu is the real fucking deal.
To prove me right, he has now made John Wick, directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch -- both former stunt men and fight coordinators (Stahelski was the martial arts coordinator and Keanu's stunt double on the Matrix sequels; Leitch has performed stunts on a number of Wachowski productions) making their feature directing debut. Like stuntmen-turned-directors David R. Ellis (RIP) and Craig R. Baxley before them, Stahelski and Leitch know their way around a fight scene. The result is some fantastic, no-frills action -- clear purpose, well-shot, badass.
Big mistake. Huge.
It turns out that John Wick is a former assassin/hitman who is, as described by every other character in the movie, the last person in the world you want to fuck with. He's not the boogeyman; he's the guy you send to kill the boogeyman. The incident with the dog is all it takes to put Wick back in action, leading him to an upscale hotel that houses all the hit men in New York as he goes on a mission of revenge to burn down every gangster and thug working for Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), head of the Russian crime family and father of the asshole punk that killed the dog.
There are already jokes about John Wick online that it's the movie in which Keanu Reeves shoots all of the heads. It's true. He shoots a lot of people in the head. And I love it -- not only because I'm a fan of a well-executed head shot, but because it says everything about John Wick as a character. He is machine; a shark. The reason he's the best is because he's so goddamn efficient, knowing that it's pointless to fire three bullets when you can fire just one and get the job done. Reeves' physicality in the movie reminded me a lot of Tom Cruise in Collateral -- the moves are precise and calculated, always at the ready and as minimalistic as possible. You believe that he can take out as many people as he does, and it's one of those rare cases in which a character is really built up as being the ultimate badass and then lives up to the expectations.
My favorite thing about John Wick -- besides all of the kickass action and Reeves' leading man turn -- is that it sets up its own underground universe populated by criminals and hit men but doesn't feel the need to explain every aspect of it. There are "cleaners" who come and get rid of bodies -- like, lots of bodies. There is a hotel at which all the killers stay, and that hotel has very specific rules about where and when business can be conducted. There are special gold coins that can be earned and used as currency which appear to be much more valuable than regular money. John Wick could have just been a straightforward revenge movie and a terrific one at that (I love a good revenge movie), but the fact that it adds a whole layer about an underground society just makes it that much more interesting. It's some of the best stuff in the film.
The Raid 2 was released, I don't see how that's possible. That shouldn't take anything away from its excellence (very few movies can be The Raid 2). It's a stylish, thrilling, violent and well-drawn action film that bothers to do some world-building and offers yet another opportunity for Keanu Reeves to demonstrate just how good he is within the genre. Yes, he's a bit of a blank. That is a conscious choice. John Wick is a guy who exists under the radar, who keeps everything under the surface. Watching him slowly come alive as he gets back to shooting heads is just one of the movie's many pleasures, and by the time he gets to the soon-to-be iconic "I'm thinking I'm back," I wanted to stand up and cheer.
John Wick is that kind of movie.
Got an action movie you'd like to see discussed in a future Heavy Action column? Let us know in the comments below!
Hola P-Broms, I have a request regarding the Interstellar podcast I imagine is coming: how about a discussion on Nolan's use of female characters? According to The AV Club, Interstellar brings the total Nolan Protagonist With a Dead Wife count to five - six, if one counts Rachel in TDKR. Also: nine Nolan-directed features, nine white male leads. On the one hand, I'm all for artistic freedom, but on the other hand, is there ever a line when it comes to this sort of thing, and has he crossed it? The well-documented dearth of women in Hollywood movies is of course not limited to Nolan, and it may not have far-reaching societal effects, but I think it's a subject all movie fans should mull over now and then.ReplyDelete
Also: I'd like to nominate Cary "True Detective" Fukunaga's wonderful 2011 Jane Eyre for a #PeriodRomanceMonth review! ;)
Thank you for posting the links. :-)Delete
"He killed John Wicks dog and stole his car"ReplyDelete
It's funny that you mentioned the raid because i noticed some of the fight choreography was beautifully staged like it was in those movies except instead of hand to hand it used a lot of gun play. John Wick is the shit at the double tap! I also loved how they made him run out of bullets and reload at inconvenient times (which you rarely see in movies). I had a great time with this flick, it's simple, bad ass and reeves is one cool motherfucker to watch. If you love action movies it does not dissapoint.
It's as if Keanu watched the Matrix-inspired Equilibrium, and thought "Neo should have done more of those gunkata scenes," and then he made it happen in this movie. As I said before, I really dug Nyqvist's performance as Viggo. He knows he's the villain in a comic book movie (I know it's not based on a comic book, but the influences are there), and he is enjoying every minute of it. Baba Yega!ReplyDelete
I agree the movie plays like a live action comic book: moody, tongue-in-cheek, and over-the-top.Delete
John Wick was a fantastic movie, i think one of my favorite parts was when other characters would catch Wick taking care of business and just be like "Well I'll leave you to it then" and just let him continue killing people.ReplyDelete
I also would love to spend more time at the Continental hitman hotel, that just was great world building their. The only negative I would have to say about the movie would be the finale fight I kinda wish that had been a little more epic, its not bad but it didnt crescendo the way I was quite expecting.
I really loved this movie, and it is only partially because I love action movies. Keanu was great, and his subdued performance I think really worked to amplify his big moment, that being the interrogation scene where he actually raises his voice. I thought that scene was really fantastic and incredibly memorable. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Willem Defoe and Ian McShane make appearances in this film, and both were great for their roles. My one complaint is that the character of Tasarov's kid was kind of underwhelming for me. I understand that he was supposed to be the douche we all hate, but he was the douche we all hate in the most obvious of ways. Overall, this was one of the best action movies I have seen in a long time, and I absolutely want to go watch it again before it's run in theaters is over.ReplyDelete
Agreed. The "punk son of the powerful gangster" is a very overused trope. Like with a lot of other stuff in the movie, I don't know if that's on purpose (they want to make EVERY action movie) or just unoriginal.Delete
I saw John Wick opening weekend & I really loved it. I had been waiting over a week for a Heavy Action review & I’m glad Patrick really liked it but then I read the first comment.ReplyDelete
Don’t worry El Gaith, I’m pretty sure Patrick “One of the reasons I hated XXX because it reminded me of the Bush Administration’s policies” Bromley will bring up what a racist jerk Christopher Nolan has been. I also bet Nolan is one of the leaders in “The War on Women”. Huh?
I know this comment will be deleted, but I’m so sick of this everything is racist/sexist/intolerant/lack of diversity crap.
Don't worry. I won't delete your unprovoked and irrelevant attack.Delete
Ha - at first I thought he was using XXX as like a fill-in-the-blank kind of thing and then I realized he was talking about xXx - it's not Patrick's fault that "dumb and violent" describes both the Bush Administration and xXx, okay?!Delete
Everyone who dislikes Satan's Little Helper is racist/sexist/intolerant.Delete
Theres a thought. Maybe Satans little helper would of been better received if Keanu was in it? I still need to see that film. I don't want to see Keanu in a Halloween movie though ;)ReplyDelete
Im looking forward to this film. Who can argue with Speed. The Matrix and Point break.
I actually thought his so called wooden acting which I may or may not agree with worked perfectly for him in The Matrix. I could not imagine anyone else as Neo.
Finally saw this tonight - loved the hell out of it - had enough unique moments to earn the beautifully-executed clichés - have to go watch The Matrix now!ReplyDelete
After just watching this and seeing Furious 7 last week, my dick has taken quite a beating! I think I'm going to ice it until Fury Road comes out. Do they have dick casts?ReplyDelete
Keanu Reeves makes a bold return into the action genre with John Wick. The film's kinetic action and vision along with a thrilling high-octane second & third act does it justly for a glorified shoot-em-up flick.ReplyDelete
I just rewatched John Wick for the fourth or fifth time on the weekend.ReplyDelete
I love this movie. Great role for Keanu Reeves in a wonderful movie filled with interesting characters.
Michael Nyqvist is a way better villain here than in MI4, while Alfie Allen is the same kind of asshole he is in Game of thrones. Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo all make lasting impressions in their small roles. Best of all, as is often the case in these kind of roles, is Ian McShane in his 3 minutes on screen. He always makes me miss HBO´s “Deadwood” very badly.
I love the action sequences , so tight and economical. The Continental Hotel and it´s rules were a great idea, also the slightly dark humor creeping through the sparse dialogue worked perfect on me.
Keanu Reeves wearing a black suit wreaking havoc on countless killers – what´s not to like?
I do like John Wick more than The Raid 2, maybe simply because it´s way shorter, looks better and has Keanu and a cute puppy in it.