Recently both of these stuntmen had been taking on more second unit director positions and stunt coordinator roles. Over the last couple of years they have been behind the camera with some sucessful major budget films. John Wick is their first run in the big chair and they do a bang up job.
The screenplay comes to us from Derek Kolstad, who's IMBD listed body of work is pretty thin and has a level of humor in the film that's just stark enough to release some of the tension that the film uses as fuel to ramp up to the fantastic action scenes.
John Wick is a blend of the brutal realistic action from Taken films and the paced and glib humour of the Boondock Saints movies. The first major fight scene in John's house is blend of dark shadows hunting each other until exploding into brutal close gunplay. It ends with a pair of funny interactions between John and a cop, followed shortly by a clean up crew he calls. It's a great first example of what to expect through the entire film.
Keanu Reeves does a great job at being a quiet focused killer in mourning. The small moments of joy, the reaction to the silly aspects of the films setting, and the fierce rage he displays at the end of the second act is spot on. Not over rought - more quiet, almost peacful as Reeve's is replaced by Wick. When I forget who's acting in a film because the character has simply taken over, I take that as a good sign that the actor is on the right track. Keanu gives a styalized and slicker performance comparing to Ryan Gossling's subtle and gritty work as the Driver in Drive.
The cast is filled with plenty of supporting big name actors: William Dafoe, Andrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Dean Winters and a favorite of mine Ian McShane. Alfie Allen does a great job of playing up the spoiled entiltiled mobsters son. On Game of Thrones as Theon Greyjoy, Allen has a skill for playing a more conflicted character with a similar twist. That of a young man proving he is a man in his own right in all the wrong ways. Allen is a jerk, and we are all loathing him right up to his expected end. He does such a great job of being a violent man-child that you feel little simpathy for any beatings he gets through the film. You start to relish the ignorance as it becomes fear.
The Swedish actor Micheal Nyqvist plays the role of the mob boss and John Wick's biggest fan. He goes from understanding broker of peace and spirals into enraged madman as the reality of John Wick's resolve starts to tear appart his criminal empire. Reeve's John Wick would have overshadowed of deflated without Nyqvist's Viggo Tarasov to balance the dynamic. Watching him go from a cold responsive 'Oh' upon hearing of his son crimes to maddened giggles in the final scene is one of the films strong points.
The worst possible part of the film is the dog - the whole premise of the film is John Wick on revenge because Viggo's son killed his dog, yet it's done well. This is where John Wick shows it's muscle. Within ten minutes of the film, you see John lose his wife and befriend a dog. The interactions seem so genuine over such a short period of time, that the impact of the dog's death made people hiss aloud in rage or gasp in simpathy. For such a reason for revenge it could have seem small and almost silly, yet the direction is well paced and Reeve's acting is controled. Once the fleeting reactions of the dead puppy had passed, the audience joined John in his moment of silence as they waited for him to go off.
The element with the most strength is the brilliant fight scenes and this is where I think the directors had the most fun due to their background. Each fight scene is a tight package of frantic and brutal violence. When John takes on the female assassin in his hotel bedroom, watch as she kness his ribs and try not to groan. John is not fancy and the hits look like they are really hitting hard. John shows a mix of jujitsu with his fancy floor work and some basic karate or kickboxing when John decides to hit folks in the face. His gun play is some of the best I've sceen in years, as good if not better then Taken. Working with a CAR (Center Axis Relock) gunfighter stance John is quick to dispatch foes with his pistols in closer range. You'll get used to his desire to ensure enemies are dead as he methodicaly fires another round into a fallen foe. The style looks diciplined and clinical with no wasted action or energy. Don't fuck with John Wick - he's very dangerous and the film does a good job in presenting that on a regular basis.
John Wick is an easy 4 - fans of action films could give it a 5 without a thought. John Wick didn't break the mold of even cast a new one for the action film genre but it made a glorious film and a great example of action films done right.