There are some who are saying this is Keanu’s best movie since The Matrix. I am not sure I can agree with that sentiment. While he was not the Constantine we wanted…he actually did a good (if Americanized) take on our favourite snarky demon binder. I will acknowledge that The Day the Earth Stood still remake is garbage. I do think his directorial role and acting in Man of Tai Chi were pretty good. I also think that 47 Ronin was pretty good as well and that he did a good job in the role. I have heard people diss that particular film because he doesn’t look asian enough. I should take a moment to remind everyone he is of Hawaiian, British, Chinese, and Portuguese ancestry. If there was someone who was qualified to play a mixed race individual in such a film – I think he is among the list.
So, no I cannot agree that this is his best movie since the Matrix, but …well lets talk about it a moment shall we?
I don’t normally talk about producers, but as the credits began to roll, I saw a name that certainly left me with a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment – Eva Longoria. I have no idea how or why she became a producer on this film, but there we go. Ok, on to the writing and direction. The directors, thats right plural, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have never directed a film before in their lives (at least according to IMDB). May not be impressive, but oh wait – with an average of 76 Stunt, Stunt Coordinator, or action choreographer credits between them they might know a thing or two about a good action film. They’ve worked on The Wolverine, Man of Tai Chi, Hunger Games, Tron: Legacy, 300, and V for Vendetta. Stahelski was even a stunt double for Keanu in Constantine and The Matrix. Leitch has been a stunt double for Brad Pitt and Jean Claude Van-Damme. Again I say, they may know a thing or two about how to handle action sequences. Apparently along the way with the dozens of directors they worked with they picked up a few tricks. Not only is the action in the film fantastic (more later) but the direction clearly was as well. It just worked. They sold me. I bought it. Yes, I was laughing at how ridiculous some of it was, but it was the RIGHT kind of ridiculous.
Granted, some of that goes to the script by relative first time writer, Derek Kolstad. He has done nothing I know, but actually can write a very tight, well paced action movie. Yes, the line from the trailer is difficult to take with a straight face, but it is entirely out of context. In the context of the scene where it is delivered, the ridiculousness of it is toned down from a mild 11 to only about a 7. The dialogue that is left beyond that is entertaining as is the character reactions as written. Between directors and writers, where the Equalizer was a good drama with some action, this is a good action with….um…Good Action! Sure there are bits where they slow down and let you catch your breath and all of them work. There is a magnificently beautiful Dante and Greek Mythology subtext woven through the film as well. Well played sir. Well played.
The story, by the by, is that of John Wick (surprise!) a retired contractor whose wife just died. During an impulsive and botched robbery the last thing keeping him out of the darkness is taken from him. He re enters the world he left behind for his wife and meets all his old colleagues who react with varying degrees of joy and fear for the return of the Boogeyman. Sorry, he isn’t the boogeyman, he is who you send to scare the boogeyman. It works. Everyone sells it. You can’t help but enjoy the ride.
Of course the cast is important to make this work. Reeves does give one of his more memorable performances in this genre and it is far less subdued that you might believe. His take on a retired Contractor is really well done and often reminds me of Mel Gibson in Payback. Willem Dafoe is as awesome as you could imagine him being as a fellow contractor. Adrianne Palicki also is believable as a contractor, but doesn’t have as much time for me to say if I like her performance. I am not a Palicki fan thus far, but she wasn’t bad here. John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick mangle the scenery as usual. Reddick is the perfect gentleman and still manages to have all the weight he needs. McShane is…McShane. This is a compliment for him as I just love watching him on screen. Poor Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) does appear to be starting to get typecast as a putz, though his Russian wasn’t bad, he was playing the Russian Mob version of Theon (not Reek). Michael Nyqvist (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) dives into his role as the patriarch of a crime family and is a pure joy to watch.
From a purely technical aspect, I want to praise Jonathan Sela. He is the cinematographer on the film and knows what a Steady Cam is. The beautiful action that was crafted by the directors? You can see it. You see every movement. Every action is watchable. Everything is taken into consideration. How much ammo he carries. Gun control. Reloading time. The number of shots to kill someone properly. Pure efficient motion. Nothing is wasted and for that, even if to a certain point the action scenes get a touch repetitive, they work. We need more action like this. We need this going forward.
If you like action, please see John Wick. Seriously. All the action that Equalizer was missing was here. The movie only slows down long enough for a laugh or to catch a breath before moving to the next beat. I know they are promising a 90 minute car chase with the new Mad Max; well this is a 90 minute stunt show. It works and deserves to be watched.
Should you take it seriously? NO! Not even. Sit back, keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, and enjoy the ride.
I sure did.
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