John Wick is a 2014 neo-noir vehicle directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. These two, though relatively unknown as directors have graced with their stunt work such movies as V for Vendetta, the Matrix, and the Hunger Games. Together, they bring their mastery of action to the directors chair, with a stripped down, nearly flawless action movie.
The plot dispenses with such fickle niceties as background and subplots. This is a risky move. Our moviegoing society generally sees complexity of plot to be good, and generally necessary, and in most conditions this is true. However, John Wick is not most movies. From the movie’s beginning we know that John (Keannu Reeves) is a dangerous man. We see him at a funeral; his wife has passed. He receives a dog in the mail, his wife’s final gist to him, a companion to share his loss. When a cruel, naive son of a Russian Mobster kills the dog for sheer thrill, the fuse burning over years of peace and domesticity is lit. John sets out to kill the man who took the one thing that still meant anything to him.
Jean-Luc Goddard once said that all a movie needed was a girl and a gun. Stahelski and Leitch endow their creation with the next best thing; a grudge and guns… lots and lots of guns. Setup, and complications are unnecessary. We have a sympathetic character, a despicable brat of a villain (played by Alfie Allen who, is ironically known for his friendliness on the set). This simple story of loss and search for recompense is something we have all experienced taken to the extreme, and by streamlining the story — trimming away excess flourishes and twists — the events of the plot are made more relatable through their minimalism. Certainly, the exact misfortunes Wick goes through have happened to very few of us (hopefully none) but Wick is made to represent the archetypal man with nothing to lose.
Stahelski and Leitch created this movie on a low-budget, not that this is discernible. It has the energy of a summer blockbuster, with all the charm of an indie production. The fight scenes, though spectacular are extremely minimalistic. Reportedly, because of how few stuntmen were available, as soon as an enemy was “killed” on the set, they left the cameras field of view, only to discreetly return cleverly creating the effect of an endless army. John Wick holds back on the explosions as well, which is somewhat to its credit. The movie’s directors have said that the climax may have been more dramatic, but they ran out of cars to destroy. This is a rare case where a shortage of funds is a boon, and not a burden.
Wick moves through scores of enemies mowing them down with tact and truculence. There is scarcely a single use of shaky cam in the whole movie, and the directors avoid quick cuts. Rather, we see the eloquence of the beautifully orchestrated combat with sweeping wide shots. Reeves has an extremely strong work ethic, and the regimen he underwent to become John Wick is evident in the fact that no visual trickery is required to make the fights seem intense. Wick’s epic headshots, chops, and hip-tosses pick up the slack in that department.
John Wick is a movie built upon solid, bulletproof action sequences; by action experts for action enthusiasts. It succeeds where most action movies fail by not getting tangles in a web of drama. It knows what it is and sticks to it. The movie isn’t hurt by a lack of emotion and theatrics because the story doesn’t require these things. When John Wick finally gets his man, he simply fires a shot and kills him. No monologue, no explanation; his dog is dead, and someone must pay, plain and simple. the work that Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have done here is profound, and I hope to see more of it in the future. Their style and attitude are of a caliber that even the most sophisticated hollywood director would do well to learn from.