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'John Wick': How The Keanu Reeves Retired Hitman Movie Stands Out From Other Action Films

Courtesy of Lionsgate

“Yeah. Well, because he stole John Wick’s car, sir.”

“And, uh, killed his dog.”


In seven months, the first installment into the world of retired assassin John Wick will turn ten years old and even though the Chad Stahelski and David Leitch directed and film was released all the way back in October 2014, I decided to watch the award winning movie for the very first time just last week.

Jumping ahead for just a moment, the fourth theatrical release that stars Keanu Reeves as the titular character will hit theaters on March 24th, two weeks from the time of writing. As with this specific franchise, movies that are framed within the genre of high intensity action and garner numerous sequels can be considered more so an unsaid tradition than a stroke of luck.

Take a look at the Fast and The Furious film series which is still going strong after twenty years. You can even go farther back in time and explore the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard line of movies. That’s just a few of the famed franchises that will stand the test of time. There’s just something about explosions, guns and overall violence that keep people glued to the big screen.

At first glance, that’s what John Wick seems to be all about. A succession of barbarous beatdowns and an endless stream of deadly bullets are the two vessels that carry this story from start to finish. After unsuccessfully trying to buy his car upon a chance encounter in a gas station, Russian gangsters ambush Mr. Wick in his own house and beat him so much that he passes out. The mob boss of the city, who is also the father of one of the aforementioned gangsters, punches his son straight in the gut for deciding to pick on the wrong man. Sniper shots, attempted strangulations and bodies crashing through glass structures are also featured prominently throughout the visuals of the story. As you can tell from these snapshots, this movie is a great example of the genre it stands for and maybe that is why it was so successful with viewers and critics alike.

But there’s also something else present in the 2014 release that I think should be noted. An aspect that doesn’t typically mix with criminals, mob bosses and loud nightclubs. The sublime detail of having so many subtleties in a world of extremities.

There is no doubt that the individual, very nuanced performances of William Dafoe, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane bring a certain classiness to a movie that’s all about brutality (Spoiler alert, the climactic fight has a tit for tat stabbing between protagonist and antagonist). But the real beauty of John Wick is sprinkled throughout the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. The movie doesn’t try to hit you over the head with the importance of characters and their relationships to each other but instead shows you, albeit for about a moment in time.

The dog and the car are the last attachments that Mr. Wick has with his wife, Helen. Rather quickly, he nonchalantly talks to the puppy and feeds the puppy a bowl of cereal. As much as this could be interpreted as being disattached, his stance is made clear in the gas station scene when the camera shoots directly at him. Dog toys could be seen directly behind him in the backseat. When he is ultimately forced to step back into his former life some time later on, the camera gives the audience a glimpse of his bedside table. His deceased wife’s necklace is right next to his dead dog’s collar. Next to those two objects is a gun. While he cannot magically resurrect the deceased with those two items, he can bring the world he once knew right back to his doorstep by using the firearm. These two emotionally charged visual depictions are planted right before major events which in turn not only shows the hitman’s romanticism towards a sense of family but also rapidly creates an emotional bond between the audience and John Wick, the man.

While there are other particulars that I hope to see explored more in the second and third entries like how one goes about officially obtaining the gold coins that are used for transactions in the criminal underworld and what Winston did to become the new owner of the Continental, the soundtrack and the slanted subtitle stylings helped immerse me in a world where a retired hitman run and guns back into his former life all for the love of his car. Oops, I mean his dog. No sorry, I meant to say his wife. John Wick is a complicated man.

Stay tuned as I have not yet seen John Wick: Chapter 2 or John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum yet. In the coming weeks, I will be watching them both and uploading my observations right here on The Movie Nerds website.

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