Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review: Keanu rampages through John Wick

In little Russia, a man walks into a church in broad daylight. As he approaches the altar, he pulls a gun, shoots the priest in the leg and kills everyone in the building with the exception of an elderly lady in the blink of an eye. "Do you even know what you're getting yourself into?" asks the pain-stricken priest. The man replies in fluent Russian: "Of course I do!" He is of course a bruised Keanu Reeves in the middle of his quest for vengeance. His latest film is John Wick, a surprisingly fun revenge thriller with an abundance of style. Who would have thought?

The film abandons a half-hearted attempt to tell a generic story after about ten minutes and turns into ninety minutes pure action with Keanu in rampage mode. The retired (and recently widowed) assassin John Wick is compelled to confront his violent past after some Russian mobsters do the worst thing you can conceivably do to a man: they steal his sports car and kill his puppy. So John returns to a world in which making "a dinner reservation for twelve" means that you have a dozen of corpses in your house. He lives up to his old nickname Baba Yaga (The Bogeyman) by single-handedly taking down the mob headed by Michael Nyqvist. No morals, no second thoughts, no forced romance, just shooting, stabbing and punching.

The film reminded me of Steven Soderbergh's excellent Haywire in its stripped down, unpretentious approach to violence and action. John Wick is a prettier, more polished movie. It was directed by Chad Stahelski, David Leitch - two former stuntmen (Stahelski was Keanu's double on The Matrix) who clearly know how to choreograph a fight sequence. The slick, clear cinematography and the stylish lightning are complemented by a brilliant, pacey soundtrack. Tyler Bates and Joel Richard create the best electronic music for an action film since the Chemical Brothers did Hanna. All these elements come together in the film's best sequence set in a busy nightclub which works like an elaborately choreographed dance number, with blood. The quieter scenes also ooze with style. Wick sets up base in hotel for assassins (and other suspect folk) where you pay with mysterious gold coins and Ian McShane sips a Martini in the secret basement-nightclub.

Keanu's acting meanwhile hasn't improved (he bottles both dramatic moments), but the part doesn't require much of it anyway. One person's wooden is another's ice-cold determination. John Wick isn't much more than an exercise in style, albeit a very successful one. It equalises Denzel's The Equaliser and then some.

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