Directed by Chad Stahelski
“John Wick” is one of those films that can easily alienate some film critics, while still maintaining a firm hold on the slightly positive side of the critical mass (i.e., with many people giving it moderately good reviews). But it’s worth considering the film in the context of what it’s attempting to be. This isn’t a bid for high honors during award season, this is an action film for people who like their fighting and driving performed by real people in real time, rather than by computer-based CGI artists. And at that level it succeeds quite well.
Keanu Reeves plays the title character – and he’s the kind of guy whose reputation precedes him. The film is filled with exchanges of dialog in which one person mentions the name John Wick and the other person goes quiet suddenly and says something like “Oh” as if that’s all the explanation that’s needed. He had been a hit man before leaving the business and marrying his wife, and his relatively simple life was continuing, punctuated by stress-relieving moments of fast driving in his beloved Boss Mustang, when a young mobster makes the mistake of a lifetime in targeting him for car theft. Of course, in one of those stereotypical film coincidences, the younger guy is the son of an old associate and things rapidly start to get very messy.
There’s really very little more to the story than that, and those events are established very early in the film and so it spoils little to know in advance what the film is about. This isn’t a film that’s made to tell a story so much as one that’s made to allow the action sequences to linger and be appreciated by folks who like such things. There’s also a mildly amusing series of scenes in a hotel that exclusively caters to killers but which doesn’t permit any “business” to be conducted onsite.
In the first few minutes of the film, as certain establishing shots are seen, I couldn’t help but think that it looked like the work of a new director attempting to establish a signature style. And as the film progressed, the focus on the stunts and action were readily apparent and so it came as no surprise to find that the film’s director Chad Stahelski is a career stuntman – including work as Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in the three “Matrix” movies. That said, there seems to be some confusion regarding director credits with Stahelski listed alongside David Leitch as co-directors on several online sites, but the film itself and its poster list only Stahelski. However, both are listed as co-producers and both share similar backgrounds as both stunt actors and coordinators and so the film’s action pedigree is well founded.
If you’re looking for a film with a complex plot and the kinds of twists and turns that keep you on your feet, then this isn’t the film for you. But if you want a revenge film with solid fight sequences, gun handling that actually requires characters to reload weapons, and some neat cars being driven by real people, then this is likely to satisfy you. This isn’t an A film attempt producing a B- outcome – this is a well-executed B- film that’s doing all it ever set out to do.