To Hell with Oscar season! Every year we have to sit through the usual rigmarole of historical biopics, famous actors trying their best to represent somebody important and Matthew McConaughey getting wheeled out to see if he can make the Dallas Buyers Club lightning strike again. This is a cynical time for me (more so than usual anyway) so while I’m waiting for Logan to claw it’s way onto screens and for Hacksaw Ridge to sort its life out so I can watch it on a weekend without having to trek all the way to fucking Basildon for the privilege, let’s talk about a film from three years ago which flew under my radar. Oh and the sequel is out, so it’s at least somewhat topical!
The film in question is John Wick, a fast paced neo-noir thriller starring Keanu Reeves and some guns. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but I mention it because if you remove the gunplay from John Wick then it essentially becomes about a piece of wood out out for revenge. Yes, it seems that Keanu Reeves is a bit like Steven Seagal in that he’s more or less found his niche, and playing anything more complex than an emotionally dead killer is just a bridge too far. Having said that, he does have his moments of solid acting, particularly in the early scenes, and next to the last film I saw him in (the total embarrassment of a film that was 47 Ronin) I found myself warming to the character, albeit only briefly. But the script doesn’t really give him, or any of the supporting characters, much to work with, so I suppose we can let his wooden theatrics slide this once.
I’ve decided to bring up Reeves’ acting and the somewhat average writing first and get it over with quickly, because it’s about the only thing in this film that I’m going to criticise. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but John Wick must be the best action movie I’ve seen since Dredd, which is NOT praise I give lightly. It contains to a subgenre of action cinematography known as gun-fu, in which high-speed martial arts choreography is blended with traditional gunplay. This kind of action is mostly found in Hong Kong cinema and the works of John Woo, so this is the first I’d experienced of it, and my God did it impress. The combat is almost balletic in its presentation, yet is balanced well by its brutality, and is beautifully concise in its execution. Not a single punch or bullet goes to waste and at no point does the eponymous John Wick seem overpowered or invincible. In fact the brilliant nightclub sequence in the middle of the film shows us that he is exactly the opposite, which brings me to another point.
There are not many films I can describe in one word, but I have the perfect one for John Wick: Stylish. From the colourful cinematography to the sharp set design to the thumpingly satisfying soundtrack, everything about this film has a fantastic neo-noir edge to it, which as a fan of Raymond Chandler and, to a lesser extent, the Max Payne series (not the film, obviously), I can’t get enough of. From nightclubs and cocktail bars to hotel rooms and rain-soaked docksides, this film really is one trenchcoat and drinking problem away from being a Philip Marlowe story starring Chow Yun-fat. And I would pay good money to see that!
For those of you that like your films story rich and possessing narrative deeper than that of ‘man with dead dog goes after blokes wot did it’, John Wick‘s writing probably won’t sell you on the concept of action movies, but it’s worth seeing for its presentation alone, for its very rare that Hollywood action is this well choreographed in the age of CGI. The richness of the world will definitely draw you in though, because it’s gorgeous to watch even without all the hitting, and the neo-noir theme running throughout makes a change from the usual lens-flare Bay-hem we’ve come to expect from current cinema. As for all you action fans, if you haven’t seen it, you really are missing out, because the film pulls no punches, both literally and metaphorically. So basically what I’m saying is that I thoroughly enjoyed John Wick, and it’s actually got me enthusiastic for its sequel, which is a better reaction than 50 Shades Of Grey ever provoked. And believe me when I say that is putting it very fucking lightly.