Combustible Celluloid
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With: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Regan, Lance Reddick, Munro M. Bonnell, Clarke Peters
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
MPAA Rating: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 101
Date: 07/20/2015

John Wick (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Slick 'Wick'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Wick opened quietly in October of 2014, with a last-minute press screening (I missed it due to a conflict with the awful Ouija), but critics who did see it were pleased and it was a modest hit. Based, astoundingly, on an original screenplay by Derek Kolstad, it's made in the vein of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns with Clint Eastwood, as well as Jean-Pierre Melville's ultra-cool hitman movies with muted colors (like Le Samourai).

Keanu Reeves stars, in an action role that nicely ranks with Point Break, Speed, and The Matrix, as the title character, a retired hitman. (He's known, in some circles as "the boogeyman," though one character corrects that assertion with: "he's not exactly the boogeyman... he's the one you send to kill the boogeyman.")

John's wife gets sick and dies, and he begins his lonely grieving process; a puppy arrives at the door -- a final gift from the wife -- and things look like they're going to be OK. Unfortunately, the spoiled son, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), of a Russian gangster, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), randomly breaks into John's house, steals his beloved car, and kills the beloved dog. Motivated by simple revenge, John re-enters the underworld, using all his old contacts to find and kill the bastard.

The movie contains wonderful touches like a special hotel that houses hitmen and other criminals, with the hard and fast house rule that no business be conducted on its premises (a rule that, of course, gets broken). Director Chad Stahelski -- a stuntman who makes his debut -- avoids all the usual action movie cliches. He choreographs his fight scenes and holds his shots so that the action is visible and clear. (Fellow stuntman David Leitch also directed, without credit, but it's not clear as to who is responsible for what.)

The color scheme is, like Melville, muted and focused on bluish greens and grays, with occasional bursts of things like red and purple when the mood strikes. The script builds a fully-constructed world, with all the pieces in place; everyone knows everyone, and they all agree to the same rules. This kind of simple, streamlined, no-frills (and no franchise) action movie is a welcome rarity today, and a pure pleasure.

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