Technical assessment: 3 Moral assessment: 2 CINEMA rating: V18
Keanu Reeves plays the title character John Wick, a mob assassin who would quit upon falling in love and settling down in marriage. Five years later, his wife dies, but not before she arranges for a dog to be brought to Wick to keep him company after her death. One day some punks fancy Wick’s car, and failing to grab it from him break into his home that night, searching for the car keys to drive away in the coveted vehicle. They kill the dog to silence it, and then beat up Wick. The incident brings Wick out of retirement, and soon learns the leader is Josef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of his former employer, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). Viggo dispatches a number of his black-suited thugs to get rid of Wick, while Wick sets out to hunt down Viggo’s son with an ad hoc team composed of former associates, old friends and even enemies (John Lequizamo, Willem Dafoe, Ian MacShane, Adrienne Palicki).
John Wick is an unabashed kick-butt movie whose main protagonist is a seething volcano beneath a placid lake. Reeves’ screen persona is the strong, silent type; he has never been known to portray roles that require hyper-articulation (think Robert Downey Jr.) or a touch of flamboyance (think Johnny Depp).
His most potent asset is his screen presence, a mixture of vulnerable looks and dynamic choreography that usually wins audience sympathy.
This very combination, however, tends to make the theme of John Wick—revenge—more palatable than it should be. Wick’s love-driven retirement as a hit man is a positive value but when his brooding pushes him back to being a killer, something needs to be deeply examined here. Wick’s lethal prowess overshadows the erstwhile promise of his transformation, leaving behind a trail of dead human beings that’s hardly worth a pet dog and a car, no matter that the dog is from a beloved wife and the car a 1969 Ford Mustang. The picture of the Wick character that emerges from all the blood drained and the necks snapped is that of an emotionally inert killer who can not extricate himself anymore from the underworld. John Wick is showing what a career in killing does to a man—despite the power of love Wick loses the moral strength to overcome himself. He ceases to be a human being—instead he is reduced to being a force of nature, a volcano, a hurricane or a tsunami that has the power to destroy but has no strength to control itself. He could very well have been named not John Wick, but John Weak.