Here it is, folks: The best movie of 2014. Sure, the Academy released their list recently, but apparently they didn’t feel that this film was worthy of inclusion. I don’t know why. Birdman was amazing, but did they really find four films better than John Wick, Inherent Vice, Nightcrawler, and The Interview? Why are there 8 nominations instead of 5 or 10? Why do we still listen to these people? I mean, American Sniper? Fuck you.
But yeah, it’s John Wick, Coherence, Gone Girl, Godzilla, and Under the Skin. That’s the real list. Seriously, what is the matter with the Academy? They didn’t even give Godzilla a Best Actor nomination!
It’s not like I expect much out of these guys. Ever since Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction 20 years ago, I’ve known that the Oscars are bullshit. Sure, I was 11 at the time, but Pulp Fiction blew my mind, whereas I was to be continually assaulted with viewings of Forrest Gump throughout junior high and high school History classes. I threw up in the middle of History class in 8th grade once. We weren’t watching Forrest Gump when it happened, but I still blame the movie for that embarrassment. In a way, Forrest Gump was the catalyst for my later complete lack of shame.
Anyway, Keanu Reeves shot like a hundred people in the face in this movie, and yet the Academy stands mute. What more can be said?
John Wick is a movie about John Wick. His wife recently passed away from a terminal illness. Long ago, he worked as a hitman for the Russian Mob; his name was “Baba Yaga”, which the movie translates as “The Boogeyman”. John doesn’t have the hut on chicken legs, though. Did Mussorgsky lie to me?
In a speech that will go down as one of the best “Let Me Tell You Just How Fucking Awesome This Guy Is” speeches of all time, the Russian crime boss Viggo talks about how John wasn’t the Boogeyman, exactly. He was the man you sent to kill the Boogeyman. When John asked to leave so that he could get married, Viggo gave him one last job that was practically impossible. John pulled it off. He is a god amongst hitmen. He is a god amongst us all. He’s Fucking Awesome, and you don’t want to fuck with him.
So, of course, somebody fucks with him.
Viggo’s dipshit son Iosef, along with two of his friends, breaks into John’s house, steals his car, and murders his new puppy. The puppy was a last gift from his deceased wife, given so that he wouldn’t have to grieve alone. In their idiocy, Iosef and his friends have unleashed the fury of all Hell upon themselves. They have unleashed JOHN WICK.
One nice twist in this movie is that they never try to make Iosef sympathetic. Usually, when there is a character in a movie that ends up hiding from a killer in a safe house, the protagonist is either that character, or a cop or federal agent tasked with protecting them. Here, Iosef is a total piece of shit and pretty much deserves to die. The reversal works beautifully, and you can’t wait to watch John blast the safehouse to pieces. Seriously, who kills a dog?
Another nice twist is that Viggo, the father, basically knows that his son is screwed from the beginning. While he goes through the motions, sending wave after wave of henchmen after John, in the back of his mind, he knows that he isn’t going to win. He tells John at one point that God is punishing both of them for their pasts; God took John’s wife and then unleashed John upon him. In a strange way, Viggo almost seems to know that he deserves his fate. It’s certainly a different take on the villain in a revenge flick, but like everything else in the movie, they made it work through great performances and attention to detail.
Keanu Reeves is fantastic in this film. Over the years, people have criticized his acting as wooden, but I’ve honestly never felt that way. He tends to play men of few words and strong actions. He’s an action hero for people who don’t like to talk just to hear themselves talk. I’m not ashamed to go on record as a Keanu Reeves fan, and for fans of Keanu Reeves, John Wick is easily one of the best films he’s done recently. It plays to all of his strengths as an actor, and none of his weaknesses. It’s the Blade of Keanu Reeves’ ouevre.
What really sends this movie to classic status, however, is the supporting cast. Lance Reddick, aka Lt. Daniels from The Wire, plays the concierge of The Continental, which is a fancy hotel designated as a neutral zone in this movie’s crazy Hitman Underworld. Ian McShane has a few scenes as the mysterious owner of The Continental, and gives John Wick some friendly advice. Willem Dafoe plays Marcus, a former friend of John’s who may or may not be out to take him down. John Leguizamo has a small part as the owner of a chop shop, because this just wouldn’t be a classic without Leguizamo! But my overall favorite has to be Dean Winters, aka O’Reilly from Oz, as Viggo’s lawyer/right-hand. In most movies, the crime boss’ lawyer is a rather thankless role, and is usually played as a pathetic wimp with a briefcase. Here, Dean Winters manages to make the character memorable just through his delivery and body language. I can’t really describe what was so entertaining about it; maybe I was just happy to see O’Reilly again. His character’s seeming inability to understand Russian was certainly a highlight, though.
Anyway, let’s get to the action. The director of this movie is apparently a stuntman who has worked with Keanu Reeves extensively in the past. The 2nd unit director has also worked on various Keanu Reeves action flicks. In other words, this is a movie headed up by 2nd unit directors that specialize in action. They do not disappoint. There is a distinct emphasis on practical stuntwork and effects, as opposed to overblown CGI bullshit. While CGI gunfire and squibs are present, they seem to be used only when there is no practical alternative; namely, when someone is going to be shot in the face at point-blank range.
That happens quite often, by the way. Oh my, is it glorious.
The gunfights fluidly transition to fistfights and grappling and back again. Keanu Reeves’ martial arts experience is on full display, though there is no obvious usage of wires. The fistfights are close and brutal, and end up on the floor within 5 seconds more often than not. An extended sequence in John Wick’s hotel room, where he faces down the evil female assassin Perkins, rivals Citizen Kane as one of the greatest hotel-room-trashing scenes in cinematic history. That poor flatscreen TV will never be the same.
My favorite sequence, however, has to be the extended shootout in a nightclub around the halfway point. From the moment the music kicks up as Keanu Reeves starts to walk across the dance floor, to the end of John Wick’s first bout with the King of the Henchmen, the movie explodes into a beautiful celebration of Action Film Ass-Kicking. John Wick mixes in some light Seagal-esque wrist-snapping to disarm opponents before shooting them dead. At one point, a gentleman with a beard is smashed in the face with a glass before John grabs him by the beard, slams his bald head down onto a nearby table, and fires two bullets into it. Henchmen attempting to hide behind columns are shot in their mistakenly exposed feet before John takes with down with a combination of punches, kicks, and point-blank gunfire.
The absolute best part of this sequence occurs when John goes to shoot a man in the face and hears the click of a gun that has run out of ammo. Without missing a beat, John reloads the gun as the man staggers around, finally shooting him in the face the moment the gun is reloaded. The sequence continues. God, I had a giant grin on my face from that bit. It’s easily my favorite action film moment since Judge Anderson splattered that one guy’s brains across the wall with his own gun in Dredd. It’s beautiful!
Just when you think the movie’s over, they go on for another 15-20 minutes. Some people are probably going to complain about that, but I have no problems. I can tell that the guys who made this movie love action movies, and they had a good reason to continue. The finale allows them to:
1) Have the hero and the villain fight in the rain at night.
2) Have the villain tell the hero that it’s time to put away the guns and fight hand-to-hand like civilized men.
Really, you can’t have an action classic without this. What more evidence do you need that the people who made this movie really cared?
Before that, though, John Wick puts his car in reverse and runs over a hapless henchman. As the man tumbles across the car from trunk to hood, John takes his gun and fires it upwards through the roof, shooting the man several times. You might ask whether such action was necessary. Isn’t the guy already being run over by a car? Isn’t that enough? Does he really need to be shot repeatedly as well?
Yes. Yes he does. Everyone involved with John Wick understood this.
And that’s why John Wick is the best movie of 2014.