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February 03, 2015

John Wick

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Chad Stahelski - 2014
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

One aspect of John Wick that I noticed was that it took place in a version of New York City that was strangely depopulated on the streets. Part of the action takes place in a hotel, although from the exterior one would not know the function of that building, an older building, wedge-shaped, something like a thin slice of cake. It is a private hotel that caters exclusively to highly paid assassins, with the one rule being that no business, as such, is to be conducted within the hotel. The name of the hotel is The Continental, perhaps named after Dashiell Hammett's character, The Continental Op.

Unlike Hammett's character, we know the name of the retired hit man. Unfortunately, the son of Wick's employer does not, instigating the man against the mob narrative by stealing Wick's vintage Mustang, which Wick refused to sell, and killing Wick's puppy, a posthumous gift for the wife Wick has just buried. The mob boss, Viggo, offers a two million dollar bounty for the killing of Wick, an offer accepted by Marcus, Wick's friend and mentor.

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There is a visual reference to Jean-Pierre Melville's The Red Circle within the elaborate nightclub where Wick first tracks down the son. What is worth noting is that Keanu Reeves at age 49 when the film was made is older than Alain Delon, in his early thirties at the time he appeared as a world-weary hit man for Melville in that film as well as Le Samourai. One can interpret what exists of a story line as one about people in a profession that in general does not allow for aging. Even when Wick is able to dispatch a prodigious number of thugs and bodyguards, he not entirely superhuman, succumbing to body blows and a well placed knife.

John Wick does not have the substance of the films that were the sources of inspiration, but the film does offer plenty of visual pleasures. One such scene is in the night club with Wick shooting his way through the crowd, chasing after the son who clad only in a bath towel, the flickering lights of the nightclub adding to the kinetic quality of the action. The flashing red light of a police car parked in front of Wick's house lights Keanu Reeves from behind, suggesting his turn as a vengeful creature from Hell. New York City is primarily a collection of imposing, often ornate buildings, silent stone edifices from the outside, hiding chaos and anarchy within. Only Brooklyn Bridge Park is filmed in warm colors.

It is probably to the film's benefit that John Wick does not pretend to be more than it is, essentially just allowing the film to speak for itself without any side characters attempting to justify Wick's actions. Sure, the scenes with puppy dogs tug at the heart, that's their function, and it's designed specifically to make John Wick essentially a good guy in a universe of bad guys and girls. Here, sound and fury signify sound and fury.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 3, 2015 06:23 AM