A single uniformed cop shows up in the hit man-out-for-revenge thriller “John Wick.” He sees blood on the title character’s face and hands.
“Evening John,” he says, all friendly even though there have been “some noise complaints.” Then he leans over to see inside the man’s Architectural Digest home and spies a body.
“You, uh, working again?”
A non-denial denial.
“I’ll uh, leave you to it then.”
That’s the world screenwriter Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski have created. There’s a fraternity (and sorority) of hit men and women. They all stay at the swank Continental Hotel when visiting Manhattan. The silky and discreet concierge (Lance Reddick, perfect) knows them by name and anticipates their every need. The owner (Ian McShane, spot-on) keeps them up to code.
And everybody who sees John Wick wants to “leave you to it, then.”
The hit woman (Adrianne Palicki) and men pay for everything with single gold coins – contracts, the services of a mob surgeon or the “cleaner” crew that hauls away the bodies and wipes up the blood.
And there’s a lot of it. Because John Wick is another one of those guys with “particular skills” the movies seem overrun with these days.
Keanu Reeves is Wick, whom we meet – bloodied – as he crashes an SUV into a loading dock. A 5-minute, almost dialogue-free flashback shows us the love of his life (Bridget Moynahan) and her untimely death. Condolences come from the only colleague (Willem Dafoe) to show up at her funeral.
Everybody knows John Wick. As in a Western, a bloody-minded young punk (Alfie Allen) messes with the “retired” man of violence. As in a Western, the punk crosses the link when he “shuts up” Wick’s puppy.
And anybody who ever saw a John Wayne movie knows what happens when you mess with a man’s dog.
Mayhem ensues, which is fitting because one of the supporting players is Dean Winters, a certain insurance company’s “Mr. Mayhem,” cast here as the sidekick to an alarmingly good, wonderfully expressive villain.
Michael Nyqvist of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has his best Hollywood role, as Viggo, the Russian mobster whose son just crossed the wrong ex-employee.
“I once saw him kill eight men in a bar … with only a pencil!”
“Babay,” Viggo calls Wick. Not just “The Bogeyman,” but “the guy you call to kill the bogeyman.”
What ensues is pure, unadulterated slaughter, delivered in a style similar to Luc “The Transporter” Besson’s action films, with a touch of John “The Killer” Woo. Reeves is a bit rough in a few moments where he has to make a speech, but convincingly enraged in others. And fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio makes great use of him in action. Watch how Reeves holds a gun – two hands, head-high, elbows bent. Notice how he flicks through every clip-change, how he finishes off a mobster with a cursory head-shot. The fights grow bloodier and more personal as the vengeance is dealt.
As fodder for fiction, this is strictly C-movie material. But Reeves animates the action and the filmmakers surround him with wonderful co-stars; the quietly menacing McShane, the chop-shop operator (John Leguizamo), the dapper “cleaner” (David Patrick Kelly of “The Warriors”) and the spitting, hissing Nyqvist. Listen to the way the Swede sputters about having his treasure hoard trashed.
Swedes playing Russians make the best bad guys. Everybody knows that, just as surely as everybody in this world knows John Wick and the slaughter that’s coming. Because everybody knows that you don’t mess with a hit man’s dog.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick, David Patrick Kelly
Director: Chad Stahelski
Rated R (strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use)