Like Nicholas Cage or Christopher Walken, Keanu Reeves is a very particular type of actor, a specialised tool best used in a particular context.
Put him a role that requires emotional heft and he’s wooden; give him an accent to master or reams of dialogue, like in Dracula or Much Ado About Nothing, and he flounders. That being said, there’s no one better at playing Zen.
John Wick is a stylish revenge thriller, set in a chilly New York where a well-mannered cabal of assassins is run out a luxury hotel. The best of these assassins is John Wick (Reeves), retired; that is, until someone steals his car and kills his dog. Still grieving for his wife, and with nothing left to lose, it’s not long before he’s cutting a bloody swathe through the city’s underworld.
Based on a Black Listed script and directed by two stunt actors from The Matrix, John Wick must set a world record for most head-shots in a feature film. Viggo Tarasov (a bullish Michael Nyquist) sends out one man after another in order to protect his son, spoiled thug Iosev (Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen), from Wick’s wrath, and one by one they meet their end by fist or bullet.
Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s action is lean and efficient – Reeves is the perfect blend of grace and fury. The film takes its cues from the likes of Johns Woo and Boorman, gritty, noirisih, and just faintly absurd. Though bare bones, Wick’s motivation is also surprisingly persuasive: audiences love animals, hate animal killers, and Iosev’s weasel face is eminently punchable.
Ian McShane, meanwhile, brings class and gravitas as the cravat-wearing Winston, owner of The Continental, with Lance Reddick as the helpful concierge and Randall Duk Kim as the hotel’s pragmatic doctor. Willem Dafoe is underused as an old ally of John’s, but, with the likes of Clarke Peters, Thomas Sadowski, Dean Winters, and John Leguizamo popping by, you barely notice.
A cool, un-ironic throwback, John Wick succeeds where recent ‘70s remakes like The Mechanic fail: by remembering to be about something. John Wick is, in essence, a story about a grief-stricken widower being dragged back into old habits, only that widower just so happens to be “the guy you send to kill the fucking boogeyman.” Can you think of a better version? More please.