Well, what can we say about the newest film in the Taken genre? Is this reiteration of the classic revenge tragedy or a racist, violent, imperialistic piece of propaganda? Well, perhaps that is more thought than this film deserves. This is a film about killing. A film about enjoying killing and how badass it looks and how cool it makes one feel to personally take a life. Not to press a button or give an order, like Hitler or Chairman Mao, but to be two foot away from someone’s head through which you can fire your 9mm pistol. This is a film version of Call of Duty, but with less storytelling and less well made.
So what do we have? We have Keanu Reeves killing an entire Russian gang with nothing but Judo, Jujitsu and the accuracy with a pistol of a professional Battlefield player, except when the plot calls for it. Great. The unstoppable juggernaut of male fantasy. The victor of every imaginary bar fight or playground confrontation. But wait, how is he the good guy then? He is a relentless murderer. What’s his justification? Oh that’s easy.
1. They are Russians. The evil superpower. The go-to baddies now that we can’t senselessly murder brown or black people in movies.
2. They kill his dog. You’ve seen Marley and Me right? People love dogs. If you kill a dog then you, your family, people who work for you and bystanders around you deserve death.
I would like to say that there is more depth than this to it but there isn’t. I would love to talk about the art direction, the cinematography, or the themes of the cohesive piece. Perhaps we can talk about them through their absence.
The art direction is neither here nor there. There was some attempt at stylizing the film but they were so muted that they were essentially castrated. The film is composed of four colours; gun metal gray, navy blue, jet black, and red – the colour of blood. Not to say a limited colour pallet can’t be beautiful and meaningful, Wes Anderson had taken this to the nth degree. This film’s shades feel chosen by focus groups. There was a great opportunity to strongly define the separate locations through colour and style for example. This is somewhat realised by the Continental, the bar of the hotel in which “business” is done. With its soft reds and 1920’s decor it lends itself to the underground, prohibition feel it’s trying to achieve. The two club locations are, however, wasted. One is a generic club, the other is a generic club with a bathhouse as a basement, so we can see girls in bikinis. Also, as all the bad guys are Russian, they speak Russian, so instead of telling these scenes visually we have long subtitled sequences. Annoyingly they have attempted to jazz up the titles by putting certain words into a different font. It’s ugly and jarring.
My main gripe with the cinematography is a lack of wide establishing shots. I have no idea what the room I am in looks like. It’s all very simple. We get a lot of boring close ups, and the fight scenes – like most western fight scenes – are so fast-paced we have no idea what is going on. We have the small saving grace that handycam is being phased out of the Hollywood action flick.
The acting in John Wick is wooden at best. Mostly it as dull and nonsensical as its script. Wooden is a criticism often levelled at Keanu Reeves, however, on the whole, I like him as an actor. I find his inscrutability fascinating. Unfortunately in this film he is uninteresting. Everyone is uninteresting. Even Willem Dafoe is uninteresting, which is a crime.
The theme of this film is non-existent. Watching it, I was expecting it to evolve into a discussion about moving on and responsibility versus revenge, but no, there is none of this. This is a film about killing Russians. No matter how much they apologise, no matter if they try to repay you, no matter if they try and run away. Kill the Russians. John Wick has the formula distilled. That is to say, remove the plot and kill the people who speak a different language than we do, the Russians. Kill the Russians.