John Wick (Keanu Reeves) resides in a vast modernist manor in the Jersey woods, its décor, like Wick’s wardrobe, so uniformly titanium and ash-coloured that for long stretches we could be watching a black and white film. Wick’s home resembles a luxury tomb, which seems apt: his beloved wife has died, though she had the foresight to arrange to have an adorable puppy delivered the day of her funeral to console Wick in his grief. But, in a perverse twist of fate, that goes to hell too: the spoiled idiot son (Alfie Allen) of some Russian Mafiosi (Michael Nyqvist) eyeballs Wick’s slick ’69 Mustang at a service station and decides to break into Wick’s house, beat him up, steal his ride and kill his puppy. At this point in John Wick we still don’t know much about who Wick is, but the fact that he doesn’t call the cops after the spoiled idiot son and his cronies depart should tell us something.
Turns out Wick’s a highly regarded contract killer who managed to go straight—and a former associate of the spoiled idiot son’s mighty powerful pa. Now that Wick’s lost his wife, car and pooch he’s pretty much got nothing left to do but kill the spoiled idiot son and whoever else gets in the way. That whoever else turns into, oh, maybe a hundred hired douchebags in tailored suits who get shot, kicked, punched, stabbed, head-butted, blown up and run over in dizzyingly quick succession. John Wick is a revenge movie. It was written by Derek Kolstad and is the directorial debut of stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski (though as of time-of-writing IMDb also says it's the directorial debut of actor/stuntman David Leitch). Its violence alternates between clean-cool and messy-ugly, it contains a pleasingly minimal amount of bullshit that doesn’t need to be there, it’s neither very distinctive nor completely generic and it uses Keanu’s natural placidity fairly well.
Keanu does Lee!
But what I like best about John Wick is the colourful way it populates its comic book crime milieu. There’s a crack team of dead guy disposal experts who show up with Windex and body bags at the drop of a corpse; there’s a posh hotel that prides itself on being a non-partisan, killing-free zone for thugs of all stripes, a sort of Mafia Switzerland in the middle of Manhattan; there’s a crowded nightclub strewn with monochromatic psychedelia that allows Stahelski to stage a small homage to Point Blank, with Reeves casually assuming the Lee Marvin poses; there are sundry bad-asses (one of whom is played by Willem Dafoe) who might save Wick’s life or snuff it out depending on the number of zeroes in the commission. The film’s conceits are all wildly over-the-top but they’re mostly played out with minimal fuss, almost no scenery chewing, some gallows humour, and a nice little cameo from Ian McShane.