4 out of 5 stars
'Do not mess with a man's dog' is basic knowledge in film class 101. From Old Yeller to Turner & Hooch, the dog serves as the catalyst for some of the key events in film history. John Wick is no different. Wick's last gift from his recently deceased wife is a puppy named Daisy. She serves as a connection to his wife and as comfort during his grief. Through a chance encounter with the Russian mafia, he is robbed and without spoiling too much of the story, they mess with the dog. Which unleashes a tale of revenge and a horrific day at the office for the men who robbed John Wick. Call it arrogance or naivety, these thieves robbed the wrong guy. Wick only recently retired from being a hitman. Wick was not just any assassin, but The Bogeyman, feared by the mere mention of his name. The thieves cause the emotional tipping point for him to unleash his revenge on the dark criminal underworld. The story takes Wick on a hunt for the men who 'took away his opportunity to grieve' and through the process, his past is revealed and the audience is introduced to the hitman's hidden world. His target through most of the film is Iosef Tarasov played by Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), who seems to have perfected the pathetic, elder son role in television and on the big screen. The unsympathetic character of Iosef seems to warrant the inevitable vigilante justice from his introductory scene. As with most revenge films, the believability of survival of the main character goes beyond comprehension, but it is an undeniable, guilty pleasure to experience.
Keanu Reeves (The Matrix) is the champion for the average man. He never comes off as too smart or fit, but is at his best with little dialogue and multiple points of action. This film happens fast and is over before you can consider the sheer lunacy of the concept. The debutant directorial team of David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, give Reeves the perfect storyline to capitalise on his strengths. Like all of the action in this film, they seem to understand that the best lines come quick, subtle and hit their mark. John Wick is a simple story of revenge shot against a dark, criminal landscape, but moves beyond the cliche. Do not misunderstand, this film is exceptionally violent, but the actions of Reeves are projected thorough the film with a force that is fuelled by well drawn supporting characters. Michael Nyqvist, Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe manage well orchestrated dialogue and fill in the necessary back story to quicken the pace of the film. They allow Reeves to be the action lead and he is only required to deliver memorable one liners. The quick linguistic delivery adds the needed levity for the audience to catch their breath.
The film deserves its rating due to violence and language, but it does open the door to many conversation points. John Wick wrestles with the love and loss of his wife. Opening a door into the raw emotion that occurs in the life of a spouse that grieves. The loneliness, love and anger spins together into a mix that is not healthy in this film, but warrants consideration and discussion. Should people be given allowance during a time of trauma of the magnitude? The other significant plot point that should be considered is 'The Code.' When the movie moves to The Continental Hotel, things get interesting. This is a world where hit-men and women go for a place of neutrality. Winston (Ian McShane) is the owner and stresses the code that underpins this violent world. Only those within the system seem to know the code and understand the penalties for breaking it, but the bigger question is who is the one who determines the code and how should justice be enacted? John Wick is merely another revenge film, but even the simplest of stories can open the door for the bigger questions of life and could even fuel conversation for those who regularly attend these films.
If you remember anything, don't mess with the dog!
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. Is revenge the answer to injustice? (Psalm 37: 27-29, Romans 12:17-21)
2. What is biblical justice? (Psalm 7:9, Romans 3:5-6)
3. Who determines right and wrong? (John 3:19-21, Matthew 28:18)