John Wick (2014)

(Video on Demand, May 2015)  Hitmen movies are a dime a dozen and so are revenge thrillers, but there’s something to be said for competent execution.  John Wick is right up there as a genre-savvy action thriller that completely understands what it’s doing, and seems determined to keep entertaining its audience even as it riffs off the oldest clichés in the book.  Keanu Reeves stars in a vengeful assassin role that’s not a bad fit for his acting range: He doesn’t have to emote much, and he’s able to meet the physical requirements of the stunts he has to do on-camera.  As with his Man of Tai Chi (and before that, of course, the Matrix trilogy), it’s easy to guess that his willingness to give himself up to his stunt experts give him added credibility in carrying the role.  Still, much praise goes to directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, two stunt specialists who clearly understand what it takes to build an exciting action sequence: long shots, clean geography, dynamic camera moves, small details to build credibility (such as reloading bullets) and actors willing to commit to the demands of the film.  Add to that the hints of a deeper mythology in which assassins seem to operate within a subculture, and you get a film that deliriously enjoyable, not so much for seeing Reeves shoot people in the head as much as being in a universe where that kind of thing is possible.  There are some memorable action beats scattered throughout the film (the most striking being a drifting drive-by shooting), but the key point here isn’t so much the oft-ridiculous premise as much as the refreshingly good execution of the formula.  John Wick is the kind of out-of-nowhere modest surprises that still manages to entertain in a world dominated by franchise behemoths.  Alas, that means that the sequel is only a year or two away…

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