John Wick Review – Rampaging Reeves


Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski

Writer: Derek Kolstad

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe


Release date: October 30th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, Entertainment One, Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The hyper-violent action.

Worst part: The ethical issues.

What do the Matrix trilogy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Lake House have in common? Yes, they’re all destructive in various ways. They’re also led by one of modern Hollywood’s most polarising and ripe-for-parody performers. Actor/director/producer Keanu Reeves was one of the 1990s’ biggest names. His star power – raking in millions for some of the decade’s biggest actioners, dramedies, and horror-thrillers – seemed destined for eternal prowess. However, after 2008 mega-flop The Day the Earth Stood Still, his leading-man status fizzled out. So, how does one make a successful Tinseltown comeback? By completing multiple projects simultaneously.

Keanu Reeves kicking ass!

Blood-drenched actioner John Wick is one piece of a career-saving puzzle. Fresh off renowned documentary Side by Side and Martial arts extravaganza Man of Tai-chi, Reeves returns to studio-driven schlock. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Plenty of big stars (Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington) are riding this wave. Hoping to attract audiences and boost box-office numbers, Reeves has learned from these no-nonsense veteran stars. Similarly to Taken and Man on Fire, John Wick excels thanks to its lead character. Wick (Reeves), pulled through  his wife Helen(Bridget Moynahan)’s cancerous death, feels completely lost. Struggling to get out of bed, his empty existence brings out the worst. Shortly after the funeral, he receives a package containing a Beagle puppy. Being his wife’s last gift, Wick learns to cherish his new four-legged friend. Two nights later, Wick is attacked in his home by three Russian criminals. Led by Losef (Alfie Allen), the gang kills the dog before stealing his ’69 Mustang. Losef, son of notorious New York mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), messed with the wrong guy! Reaching out to veteran hitman/mentor Marcus (Willem Dafoe), Wick reaches into his blood-soaked past to destroy Viggo’s syndicate.

Michael Nyqvist & Alfie Allen.

Seriously, what was the last interesting and re-watchable action flick? Shrouded in stupidity and budget-related shortcuts, the genre is typically defined by disasters like A Good Day to Die Hard and Taken 2. If the genre was city, hacks like Luc Besson and McG would be the mafia dons talking down to us average folk. John Wick, dispelling the Expendables franchise’s ‘winning’ formula, is a glorious and engaging return to form. In fact, it’s a return to form for its actors, Hollywood action, and the genre. Giddily so, it gives everyone something to do and the filmmakers a chance to prove themselves. Stunt coordinators turned storytellers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have worked tirelessly for decades. Known for boosting Reeves’ physicality and Hugo Weaving’s prowess in the Matrix trilogy, our dynamic duo utilise everything at their disposal. Handed a simplistic screenplay and tiresome premise, Leitch and Stahelski come close to polishing a turd. Dealing with retribution and deep-seeded emotion, the premise explores several intriguing and well-intentioned concepts. However, the script merely skims over them before distracting itself with action and chaos. Forced into small slithers, its greater themes are hissed out through monologues. Despite the simple-yet-effective plot, the movie doesn’t notice its own disturbing undertones. Letting Wick off the leash, the movie wholeheartedly supports his psychopathic nature. In the 1980s action-hero era, this would be awesome. Today, with gun control a major issue, it’s wholly insensitive.

“John Wick isn’t the Boogeyman. He’s the man you send to kill the f*cking Boogeyman!” (Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), John Wick).

Adrianne Palicki.

Fetishising guns, grenades, and guts, John Wick almost becomes ethically repugnant. Like most action flicks, overt masculinity, raw power, and lethal skills define its characters. Taking away Wick’s wife, muscle car, and dog in quick succession, the plot charts its leads’ journey from existential angst to full-blooded justice/vengeance/psychotic breakdown. Similarly to Dolph Lundgren/Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles, budget and style clash throughout. Despite the strong action and hyper-kinetic style, this actioner works best within humble locations and small spaces. Taking the fight to nightclubs, hotels, houses, and car parks, John Wick utilizes everything within its world. As experienced badasses, Leith and Stahelski understand filmmaking’s complexities. Released in the Post-Raid era, John Wick – creating an immense body count – casts a huge shadow over Hollywood. Whipping Reeves and co. around one another, the choreography and cinematography illuminate its fantasy aura. Taking on Besson, John Woo, and the Wachowski siblings, their direction kicks the plot into overdrive. Wick, shooting almost every victim in the head at point-blank range, cements his status as: “the man you send to kill the f*cking boogeyman”. Throughout this hyper-kinetic bloodbath, Reeves establishes his simple-yet-effective merits. Speaking through gritted teeth and a peculiar accent, the 50-year-old A-lister crafts a charismatic glow. The supporting cast, including esteemed character-actors Nyqvist, Allen, Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick, does valuable work.

Pulling Reeves back into the spotlight, John Wick is one of 2014’s biggest surprises. Leith and Stahelski, boosting their and Reeves’ careers, elevate its silly premise with zany flourishes and ballsy action. Despite the ethical conundrums, the movie crafts wholeheartedly divide reality and fantasy. Released in the post-Summer/pre-Oscar season void, this action-thriller should satisfy most audiences. Hopefully, Reeves can now forget the horrific 47 Ronin.

Verdict: An enjoyably manic actioner.

Trailer Trash – John Wick


Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

Known for playing idiotic teenagers and clueless action heroes, Keanu Reeves has certainly had a unique and fascinating career. Headlining hit actioners including Point Break, the Matrix trilogy, and Speed, the Canadian actor, director, and musician is at home in the genre. Lately, however, his interests have switched to directing kung-fu flicks like Man of Thai Chi and documentaries like Side by Side. So, having been six years since his last guns-and muscles action  role (as a grizzled cop in Street Kings), why has he returned? Well, despite the hefty financial gain, it appears his latest explosion-fest, John Wick, may actually be much better than what the title suggests. Even Wick’s signature line winks at Reeves’ latest career one-eighty: “People keep asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking, I’m back.”

Reeves plays the titular character in this potentially enthralling action-thriller. Going by the poster, we can discern that his character – an unshaven, ultra-slick badass – is gunning for blood. Peeling back a significant part of the movie’s wafer-thin plot, the trailer lets our characters off their leashes. After his puppy/gift from his dying wife is killed by intruders, Wick comes out of mercenary retirement to recover his weapons and eviscerate those responsible. Fuelled by tough-guy posturing, revving engines, neon-soaked nightclubs, and gunplay, the trailer has enough chutzpah to boost even the most cynical critic’s expectations. With a cast rounded out by John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist, and Adrianne Palicki, this movie might become one of this/next year’s biggest surprises. In addition, moving away from the Raid series’ relentless aura, the action and violence seem – by Hollywood standards – refreshingly watchable.

We’ll find out when John Wick premieres in the US on October 24th. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


 

A Most Wanted Man Review – Spy Hard


Director: Anton Corbijn

Writers: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)

Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright


Release date: September 12th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Entertainment One

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

 

4/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Over the past thirteen years, filmmakers and studios have milked the proverbial zeitgeist teat. Though major political, economic, and cultural events have been re-enacted previously, the 21st century’s biggest issues are being flogged for our entertainment. United 93 and World Trade Center re-created America’s darkest day, Zero Dark Thirty depicted the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while The 25th Hour tackled the saddest New York imaginable. However, spy-thrillers like A Most Wanted Man face the nitty-gritty of post-9/11 paranoia.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's all-powerful swan song.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s all-encompassing swan song.

Luckily, A Most Wanted Man takes the high road throughout. Looking into a distressing magic 8-ball, the movie refuses to offend anyone. However, it still tells an effective and meaningful tale. Adapted from acclaimed author John le Carre’s recent novel, this spy-thriller honours the legendary writer whilst taking a different path. In addition, the movie efficiently tackles the War on Terror. The title cards, layered over an arresting shot of the ocean crashing into a dock, inform us of important historical events. After learning Islamic extremist Mohammed Atta had planned the World Trade Centre attacks in Hamburg, Germany, the US Government developed a task force there to destroy future potential threats. In this fictional account, we meet the people in charge. In its latest mission, lead espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) tasks his team –  bolstered by Erna Frey (Nina Hoss) and Max (Daniel Bruhl) – with tracking illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). Working off the local Muslim community and CCTV footage, Gunther’s team finds Karpov in a decrepit housing complex. Simultaneously, the team tracks Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah(Homayoun Ershadi)’s suspicious activities.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Despite being Europe’s most prolific counter-terrorists, Gunther and co. must make their case before German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and American diplomatic attache Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) take over. Obviously, A Most Wanted Man is devoid of a James Bond or Jason Bourne. Lacking gadgets, lavish vistas, or explosions, the average filmgoer might reject this intricate and claustrophobic effort. However, its narrative grips the viewer from the first to last frame. Its surprises, lacking the typical action-thriller bombast, are hearty breaths of fresh air. The mystery, placing professionals in realistic yet unpredictable situations, never relies on standard tropes. Standing alongside its competition, the story – aided by Andrew Bovell’s meticulous screenplay – rests on its characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Fuelled by intensive conversations and chases, the spying is as mature and concise as our characters. However, the story – depicting Gunther’s team forming alliances with distressed lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and renowned banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) – never delivers enough emotional resonance. Avoiding major thrills, the movie occasionally tests the viewer’s patience. Based around political conflicts and slow-burn espionage, some may beg for fistfights or shootouts. The first-two thirds, though peppered with harsh truths and tense sequences, won’t raise anyone’s blood levels.

“Every good man has a little bit of bad, doesn’t he? And in Abdullah’s case…that little bit might just kill you.” (Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), A Most Wanted Man).

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Despite the minor flaws, A Most Wanted Man‘s positives make for pitch-perfect sequences. Fuelled by witty lines and surveillance jargon, this glacially paced drama soars when required. The last third, driven by a heart-wrenching climax and bitter resolution, delivers 2014’s most gripping moments. Director Anton Corbijn (The American, Control) applies his strengths to each frame. Known for uncompromising flourishes, his style rescues certain sequences from tedium. Dodging The American’s  immaculate sheen, his depiction of Hamburg is worth the admission cost. Enlivening each setting, he revels in the city’s architecture, grit, and history. In addition, Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography highlights each scene’s viscera and value. Beyond this, Hoffman delivers one of the year’s most profound performances. In his penultimate feature, Hoffman injects vigour and malice into this invigorating protagonist. In particular, one scene solidifies Hoffman and his character’s immense worth. After drifting out of bed, he rolls his eyes, downs a shot of whisky, then plays several notes on a piano. In this few-second scene, Corbijn cements Hoffman as one of this generation’s greatest talents. The supporting characters, though serving to boost Hoffman, further propel the story. Wright and McAdams bolster certain plot-threads with energetic and potent performances. In addition, Dafoe’s core strengths saves his plot-device role.

Delivering a fresh take on post-9/11 paranoia, A Most Wanted Man is an entertaining and comprehensive discussion of the past decade’s biggest issues. Blitzing similar pot-boilers including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Body of Lies, and Syriana, this spy-thriller embraces the simple to tackle the complex. More importantly, Hoffman’s scintillating performance highlights a remarkable career cut short. Like with his character, the movie’s nuances draw the line between success and failure.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-crafted spy-thriller.