Tuesday, 21 April 2015

FILM REVIEW | John Wick (2014)

After the push back of the UK release (it was originally supposed to be released in January, but got pushed back to April), I finally got to see John Wick. I haven't seen a good action flick like this in years. The most redeeming quality of this film for me? No shaky cam. Is this a trend set to culminate in other action flicks? I hope to God that they do.

To quote John Wick himself: "People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer, but yeah, I'm thinking I'm back". Keanu Reeves truly is back and is as badass as ever. It's been a long time coming, but it's nice to see him flaunting his talent in Action filmmaking again. We've seen it before with his performances in films such as Point Break (1991), Speed (1994) and The Matrix (1999). John Wick feels like an amalgamation of the three characters of those three films. It's as though he's morphed into each role from these films to create a super Keanu. 

It's not just Reeves that holds his own in this film, John Wick strives creatively from its directorial team consisting of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. The film serves as their directorial debut after gaining credits on multiple films as second unit directors and stunt coordinators, and were involved with Reeves in The Matrix Trilogy as his stunt doubles. That along with the fantastic original screenplay written by Derek Kolstad telling the story of retired hitman John Wick in a traditional vengeance story with a somewhat trivial catalyst. And the supporting cast of Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen and William Dafoe cement this film even further into being a tight thriller with so much potential that it attains throughout its duration.

In recent years, Action films have been plagued with a somewhat grittiness that employs the use of the shaky cam technique just a little too much. Take the Taken franchise for example, it gets to the point where you can barely see the action taking place due to the 'realism' that is trying to be applied. John Wick throws that out the window and offers a slick, stylistic approach to filmmaking. Using smooth camera work, we're able to appreciate the superb stunt work first hand, and really feel that anger and vengeance seeping through Wick's being.

And it's not just the camera work, the post-production of this film is outstanding. The colouring gives the film its own sense of character, projecting the feelings of loss and despair of Wick through the green and blue colour palette. And then you have scenes such as in the nightclub where the bright red lighting heightens the anger of Wick's character. In fact, the colouring and the lighting convey Wick's character so well, along with the trivial catalyst mentioned earlier - that being his dog being killed by the gangsters he's set out to kill, due to the dog being a gift from his dying wife. Also, through that nightclub scene you get the pure talent of the stunt work through the way it's choreographed. It adds a human element to the film as you believe Wick is the best hitman out there as the main antagonist Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) says. You see it first hand, which is amplified by his anger making it believable.

Speaking of vengeance stories, I'm a sucker for them. They always come with the most engaging plot lines, it's never over complicated. There's a clear goal, and that's to seek havoc on those who have cause either the protagonist and/or someone close to the protagonist pain. Which is obvious here, through the loss of a connection to the love of his life being taken from him. And this film takes it even further, as it ends up not just being a vengeance story. It manages to set up a larger story through the hotel that Wick stays at, which seems to be a headquarters of some sort for hitmen. The film doesn't set itself up to be a franchise, but through this development you want to see a sequel or a prequel to happen to see why that has become a thing. It's not forced upon you like a lot of films have been doing recently.

A smaller detail that stood out to me was the creative way in which they used subtitles. They weren't just placed at the bottom of the screen, they became their own sort of character throughout the film. They appeared in compositional places on the screen, fading out whenever a character finished talking through them walking by the subtitles or moving near them. Film editors can learn a lot from this film, it's as though it's setting out new boundaries for film editing as well as how a good Action film can be produced.

And it wasn't just what was on screen, but rather what you could hear too. My favourite film soundtrack so far this year is Inherent Vice, but this comes in second place. It fits the feel and theme of the film extremely well. It's dark, yet matches the tone of the swift camera work that edges on being just a little too perfect. Then suddenly you hear Marilyn Manson's voice through his track 'Killing Strangers', which ultimately becomes the film's theme song. It's a good fit, as it juxtaposes the films feel with Manson's rough voice, which was such a nice surprise for me as I'm a fan of Manson and had no idea that his music was in this.

The only qualm I had with the movie was the use of the same birds eye view establishing shot that's used at least five times. That's the only thing that bugged me throughout my whole viewing of this movie. I mean surely there are other ways to point out the fact that you're in the city than having to sweep across building roofs. But that's just a small criticism in terms of the whole spectrum of this film which I thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe a little too much. I can't wait to see where the story goes with this film, there were so many untied ends littered throughout the film, especially in terms of why Wick became a hitman in the first place and how he got out. And hopefully we'll be able to see it.

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