With Chad Stahelski’s John Wick hitting the cinema screens, it could arguably put this director up as the surprise filmmaker of the year. With an experienced background in the stunt industry, his first debut is – literally pound for pound – packed with stylishly violent finesse, courtesy of sharp performances by Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist and Willem Dafoe.
John Wick, aptly named for its protagonist, introduces itself with an alarmingly grim take of the recent widower (Reeves) before cutting to his seemingly dull as dishwater lifestyle. As Wick grieves the loss of his wife, he is left with nothing but his thoughts and her last present to him: a small beagle puppy, in the hope that it will help him cope. It finally starts to look good for the unlikely companionship until the spoilt son (Alfie Allen) of a kingpin wrecks his home, killing the puppy in cold blood in order to steal Wick’s fancy car. Having awoken the angry assassin inside of him, Wick quickly gets to work to exact his cold vengeance, angrily smashing the concrete floor in his basement which had hidden all his toys. This quickly escalates to a warring feud between himself and the city’s underworld.
Stahelski’s perspective of a world through the eyes of a hired killer is a strange albeit compelling tale of grit, honour amongst thieves, and a naturally heavy use of euphemisms. This comes to a real head in the hotel set-up, doubling as a vacationing hotspot for killers out on the job, with a 24/7 doctor and a calm, collected manager (Lance Reddick) who is happy to leave every question unasked.
The story is by no means complicated, but comes with a no mess, no fuss approach which is refreshingly to the point. Accompanied by a cast that is no different, it leaves the film to dwell on the brass, the gore and the punch-ups which hold nothing back on the brutality.
Coming from a director with a history in stunts, it felt inevitable that the plot might fall by the wayside. However, as John Wick goes on, it’s clear to see the film adopts the much needed “show; don’t tell” strategy of storytelling, but for a movie also steeped in secrecy, the ultimate convincer of Wick’s shadowy character is that a lot of what is unexplained felt like it was on a need-to-know basis. Mix all that with the more-decorative-than-artistic subtitles which occasionally popped up on screen, I felt like I was watching a film that nearly bordered on something Tarantino-esque.
Ultimately, for Stahelski’s first shot at the big time, John Wick was an odd yet compelling and enjoyable alternative to Sin City, and for a film that was more than just a miracle baby of The Matrix and Taken, it comes as no surprise that a sequel is already on the way.