I haven’t heard about Keanu Reeve’s new movie, “John Wick,” until a friend mentioned it. I knew the basic premise for this revenge flick from watching the trailer: something bad happens, retired assassin comes out of retirement, and everyone dies a cinematic death. The little details, like gold coins buying access to a secret society of professional assassins in New York City, made all the difference.
John Wick (Reeves) bails out of a SUV with a bloody wound to his stomach, staggering away and collapsing to the ground. A cellphone in his hands plays the video of a woman (Bridget Moynahan) at the beach, calls him John and they share a selfie kiss. Forty-eight hours earlier, he’s a distraught husband who lost his wife to breast cancer, buried her in cemetery, and cleaning up an empty house after everyone leaves the wake. A special delivery arrives with one last present from his wife to ease his grieving pain: Daisy, an adorable Beagle puppy.
John takes the dog out for a drive in his souped up 1969 Mustang the next morning, racing up and down the local airstrip to relieve his anguish. Stopping off at the gas station to fill up, he encounters a group of young Russians men. One of them, Iosef (Alfie Allen), takes an interest in the Mustang, insists on buying it and makes a snide remark in Russian after John told him that it wasn’t for sale. John surprises him with his own remark in Russian before driving off. Later that night, Iosef and his friends break into his house to kill the dog and steal the car.
If they have only stolen the car, things would have ended with less bloodshed. But they killed his dog, making the payback very personal. After burying the dog and cleaning up the floor, John takes a sledgehammer into his basement and pounds the concrete floor into pieces. A large case with guns and gold coins reveals the secret past he left behind for marriage to a loving woman.
Who the hell is John Wick?
As the Russian crime boss, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), explains to his wayward son, John Wick wasn’t just a highly talented assassin but one with the nickname buka (Russian for boogeyman). Iosef, of course, doesn’t believe in the boogeyman. While the father sits before the fireplace and sings the nursery rhyme about misbehaving children being taken by the boogeyman, a squad of his best men takes on the boogeyman. With a disabling body shot and two head shots in a well-executed (pun intended), choreographed sequence, John systematically takes apart his former employer to extract revenge.
Reeves claim to fame was “The Matrix” movies, where slo-mo bullet time got invented for those movies, and too often overused in other movies. I was hoping that this movie would have absolutely no slow-mo bullet time, but one scene used it for hilarious effect just before Iosef meets his inevitable fate. Like “47 Ronin” earlier this year, Reeves gives another fine performance as the reluctant soldier who fights for justice.