John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a man with a nice car and a nice house living in a quiet rural area in northern New Jersey with his loving wife. Things could hardly get better.
Unfortunately for him, things can get worse, and do, when he loses his wife to cancer. Shortly after that, his house is burgled by the Russian mob, who also take the time to steal his car and kill his dog – a posthumous present from his wife.
Were Wick an average, mortal man, that would be the end of a very depressing, very short movie. Luckily for the audience, Wick is much more than that. In the words of main antagonist Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist): “John Wick isn’t the bogeyman; he’s the guy you call in to kill the bogeyman.”
John Wick might just be this year’s best action movie. I don’t think I’ve ever paid as much attention to seeming minutiae like choreography, soundtrack, or colour scheme as I did during Wick. To be clear: all three are perfect. A spectrum of blues, grays, and yellows give Wick a bleak atmosphere, without descending into hopelessness; Tyler Bates’ music complements every scene the way a soundtrack should, even becoming a character of its own at points; the fight scenes play out like dances at some points, or comic pages in others.
The scene perfectly exemplifying all of this takes place in a dance club about halfway in. The colours start from blue and run all the way through the rainbow as Wick chases a man through the club. As he goes, Wick racks up a substantial body-count, never wasting a bullet, or even a motion. Guns take the place of fists; shots take the place of punches, and yet it never seems lazy. It’s actually elegant the whole way through. Meanwhile, this is all accompanied by a dubstep-dance-track perfectly in sync with Wick’s actions.
To look at more traditional things, Wick gets a lot of other things right. Nyqvist’s Russian mob boss would almost be Vito Corleone (of Godfather fame) if he got his own movie. His is the most dialogue-heavy role in the film, and he kills every line. Whether it requires brutal gravity or wit, Nyqvist makes the character his own, and I doubt there would have been anyone better suited for the role.
Willem Dafoe and Reeves also shine bright in Wick, despite (or perhaps because of) having few lines. In fact, Reeves acting is wooden (as it tends to be), but the movie almost seems to require that. One particular scene sees a shot-up Wick walking into a hotel and asking for a doctor and someone to do his laundry. These lines are delivered by someone who is quite obviously not in pain, and yet, if he were trying any harder, it would somehow seem off. Reeves’ woodenness actually becomes a central element of Wick’s character.
John Wick is a revenge-thriller and, on a large scale, it certainly doesn’t try to be more than that. When you get to the little stuff is where Wick actually gets interesting. It could have been a run-of-the-mill action movie, but the attention to detail elevates it to one of the better films I’ve seen all year.
I’m willing to say it’s the best action movie I’ve seen in 2014.
The Phoenix Rating: [usr=3.8]