John Wick (2014) [REVIEW] [Fantastic Fest ’14]

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Remember when we all first saw The Matrix and thought it was the coolest movie we had ever seen? We remembered Keanu Reeves from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Point Break, but this was his big chance! He starred in one of the most ground-breaking science fiction movies since Star Wars and he was destined to only do awesome things. His career after those films was…weird. He was involved in a couple of psychological thrillers like The Watcher and The Gift, as well as more romantic fare like Sweet November and The Lake House, but still had some sci-fi chops with A Scanner Darkly, Constantine, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. As he’s entering the fourth decade of his career, he seems to be experimenting a little bit more by making the movie HE wants to make. Luckily for audiences everywhere, Reeves wants to star in movies like John Wick, because John Wick was goddamned awesome.


john wick movie keanu reeves funeral

Sad John Wick at a human funeral, NOT a puppy funeral.

Reeves plays the titular Wick, a man who suddenly loses his wife. Clearly at a loss for how to spend the rest of his life, a mysterious package arrives for him the day of his wife’s funeral. A note accompanies this package and it’s from his late wife, giving him one last gift in hopes of it helping John. What is it? IT’S A GODDAMNED BEAGLE PUPPY. Wick, being a human, falls for the puppy and attempts to take care of it. In a chance altercation at a gas station, Wick inadvertently offends a Russian mobster, played Alfie Allen, also known as the dick-ish Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones. Heh. Dick-ish. Anyways, this altercation results in this mobster tracking down John Wick, breaking into his house, beating him, and murdering his puppy. YOU ASSHOLE. Oh yeah, he also steals John Wick’s car, which is ultimately what he was after when he broke in. Unfortunately for Theon Greyjoy, John Wick is a retired hitman that’s described as the guy you call to KILL the Boogeyman. As you can imagine, the film then plays out in a series of gun fights, head smashes, throat punches, car crashes, and cameos by great character actors.


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Theon Greyjoy, you are just THE worst, aren’t you?

I’ve said on this site before that a straight up “action” movie isn’t normally my cup of tea. Luckily, John Wick isn’t a straight up action movie. The film walks that line between action fantasy and action reality, because obviously nobody can ACTUALLY do any of the things Keanu is doing in this movie…can they? No, probably not, but it’s grounded enough in reality that you can still be surprised at a specific neck snap or throat stab. Wick is a man of few words, but Keanu is no stranger to getting physical and hands-on in his roles, so watching him kick ass was more believable than a lot of other Hollywood actors. Also surprising is that this is the first feature film directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. Not so surprsing? Between the two of them, they have more than 150 stunt credits to their name. So, yeah, these guys know their shit. I haven’t been more entertained or surprised by an action film since The Raid films or Dredd. Admittedly, this film isn’t as good as those films, but as entertaining? Oh hell yes.


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Reeves maintained the cool, quiet archetype well, but luckily he was surrounded by a great supporting cast. Alfie Allen’s face just screams “I’m a spoiled prick” in every scene, only to be heightened with his father to put him in his place, played by Michael Nyqvist. Wick got to face off against a female assassin out to cash in on the bounty placed on Wick’s head, played by Adrianne Palicki, who might not have had the same natural ass-kicking abilities of a Gina Carano, but don’t be surprised to see Palicki popping up in more heavily physical roles. As Wick comes further out of retirement, he crosses paths with more and more actors that make you nudge your friend and say, “It’s that guy!” From Lance Reddick to Ian McShane to John Leguizamo, the background is packed with familiar faces. Oh yeah, not to mention Willem Dafoe in all his “Hey John Wick, I’m just trying to give you helpful advice” glory.


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John Wick, you can’t have a gun in church! Man, I wonder what the budget was a blue and green lights was.

The film’s plot serves as a reason for John Wick to punch guys in the face. Nothing more, nothing less. John Wick could’ve gone on a violent rampage for any number of reasons, so the filmmakers decided to tap in to the most primal feelings of all: people love puppies. There was a lot of talk about treatment of dogs in films at Fantastic Fest this year, and John Wick was no exception. It’s strange to me that a film like Cub, which has an extended sequence of violence towards a dog which is essential to character development, got so much flack when John Wick was overlooked. I don’t chastise the filmmakers for choosing a puppy murder to spark the rampage, just interesting that so many people were willing to overlook the canine casualty, possibly because the bad guys got what they deserved. Puppy deaths aside, John Wick was another one of the most satisfying movie experiences I had at Fantastic Fest and I couldn’t think of any way to make the experience. Unless, of course, they announced right then and there how many sequels were in the works.


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