John Wick

Movie Review #895


Premiered in New York City, New York on October 13, 2014. Nationwide release on October 24, 2014. Action/Thriller. This film is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. Runs 101 minutes. Chinese-Canadian co-production, with additional American involvement. Directors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski. Screenplay: Derek Kolstad. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, and Daniel Bernhardt.

Don’t even bother lighting this “Wick”.

By Alexander Diminiano

I don’t very often consider movies to be a waste, but god what a waste “John Wick” was. I spent eight bucks in this movie instead of going to see “St. Vincent”, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. It was an innocent decision, in my defense, because I actually felt that “John Wick” might be a decent movie. I wasted over ninety minutes of my life learning just how wrong I was. “Decent” is a huge compliment to this film, and it’s not even worth complimenting in the first place.

On top of that I’ve washed at least thirty trees trying and failing again and again to come up with a satisfactory review, crumpling each attempt up after I deemed it inadequate. I just wish the producers of “John Wick” could have done the same: crumpled up every scrap of the full and throwing it out for the birds to munch away at. I’m sure they’d realized the movie was worth throwing out, but I’m sure they also wanted money, and no matter what I say about “John Wick”, there’s nothing I can say that will change the fact that this movie will turn a profit.

I didn’t have low expectations of “John Wick”. All the hype led me to believe that I would at least enjoy the movie on some level. (Ha. Wrong!) But even in Oscar season, I couldn’t imagine that this would be Keanu Reeves’s finest work since “The Matrix”. It’s far from that, and the reality is just as unexpected: it’s only marginally better than “The Matrix Revolutions”.

This movie shifts at will between obnoxious and boring, and at the same time, it’s thoroughly confusing. So much of “John Wick” that should make sense, doesn’t. Wick (Keanu Reeves) is revealed to have some sort of affiliation with organized crime. But who’s bad? Who’s good? Which gang is which? Who are Wick’s friends? Who are his enemies? Who wants him dead? Who wants to save him? The least of what I’d figured out by the end was that Willem Dafoe wanted to save Wick. But that brings about more questions. Why did Willem Dafoe agree to kill John Wick if he really wanted to save him? Did he want to kill Wick all along and then have a sudden change of heart? Is Willem Dafoe a member of John Wick’s gang? Is he a traitor from a rival gang? Why does this movie force us to wonder about so many questions that it should have answered? Why don’t we just throw Who is Keyser Söze?” into the pile?

Even more confusing is the fact that a cast this talented can’t seem to act. Keanu Reeves gives an acceptable performance, but at the same time, he captures this action hero in a way that reminds the audience of how Roger Moore captured James Bond. As if Reeves’s role isn’t corny enough, take a look at Michael Nyqvist. His performance is caricatured, even cartoonish. Nyqvist can act, though. If you want to see him give an actual performance, stay home and watch the Swedish “Millennium” trilogy on Netflix. Then there’s the cream of the crap: Giancarlo Esposito. I had to constantly remind myself that this was the same man who had played Gus Fring on Breaking Bad. I loved him in that show. I hated him in “John Wick”. He takes on an accent so fake that I can’t even tell who the hell he was trying to imitate. I think this was supposed to be funny. Maybe if your definition of “funny” is “incredibly annoying.” I couldn’t put an end to my frustrated sighing and eye-rolling.

The film’s visual style is equally annoying. If you can tolerate the distracting cinematography—which ultimately confuses the movie for a first-person shooter—then perhaps you’ll find the directors’ obsession with subtitles unbearably distracting. I sure did. It’s neat at first when subtitles are popping up on the screen with random boldfacing and fonts that change every other word, but because this is a movie, not a comic book, the schtick gets tiresome very quickly. By the way. The film’s directors are David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. You haven’t heard of them, and nor had I. They were stuntmen for the “Matrix” trilogy and have had absolutely no experience directing. (Clearly.)

Wick supposedly is the hero of this movie. He wants revenge after some hooligans steal his car and kill his dog. Okay, so he’s killing the bad guys, but what about all those innocent civilians? Wick kills anybody who has the nerve to step in front of him just as ruthlessly as he kills those who did him wrong. The killings are nearly constant, and most of the time, they’re played as humor. But “John Wick” possesses a brutally distasteful sense of humor. While the scene depicting the death of Wick’s dog is effectively tragic (the film’s only moment of appealing to any emotion at all), the scene is referenced as a joke on multiple occasions later in the movie. I think these directors should know that animal cruelty is not a joke. You have to be Mel Brooks to make light of such a disgusting crime, and all things considered, he’s only managed to make light of it once.

It gets worse. You can’t even call it gallows humor when directors Leitch and Stahelski conduct killing scenes such that they play out as sight gags. One of such scenes depicts Wick stepping into a Russian Orthodox Church and blowing everyone away with a machine gun. I have zero respect for a director (or, two directors) who wants to act like that’s funny. I have even less respect for a movie this xenophobic; there’s several more scenes with a distinctly anti-Russian air. But if the above scene, for whatever sick reason, does sound funny to you, might I recommend watching YouTube videos of people slipping on banana peels. You’ll find those videos far funnier, considerably more sophisticated, and so much more thrilling than “John Wick”.


4 thoughts on “John Wick

  1. You raised a lot of legitimate criticisms about the movie. I ultimately liked it because it seemed to be a satire of sorts on the genre (there’s even a clean-up crew to get rid of the dead bodies). And the lack of queasy-cam/choppy editing in the action scenes was a plus.

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