Today I watched Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s John Wick (2014)
Joh Wick, our titular protagonist, was at one point the scariest hitman of all time, then he met a nice lady and settled down. Being such a scary dude means his old contacts allowed him to leave the life of contract murder and live a quiet life, then his wife dies of an unspecified illness. As he grieves he receives a mysterious package, a pet dog from his deceased wife to keep him company. Unfortunately some upstart mob boss’s son decides that Wick’s car is particularly nice, so he steals it and kills the dog. Now John is going to kill anyone who gets between him and his sweet, sweet revenge as he cuts a swath through the colourful underworld this movie creates.
I think John Wick is significantly better than yesterday’s film at finding a new, modern identity for the action hero. The key here is simplicity and minimalism, this film strips it’s setting of everything superfluous to it’s plot and style and thus strips any complex, misreadable moralities from the tapestry. It is hard to apply any sort of complex morals to this piece, aside from don’t kill dogs, and the film goes out of it’s way to disassociate it’s high pulp world of crime from reality.
But this does not mean the film is dumb or anything of the sort, quite the contrary I think. We live in a time in which artistic meaning is implicit with any form of art, for an artist to explicitly reject that a work is bereft of any expressive theme is in itself a meaningfully rebellious act. It says to me that these artists understand the cathartic value of violent stories and also the questionable moral nature of said violence. By stripping the world to the bare minimum of gangster tropes, any moral complication is removed, there is only a bad guy, a good guy, and a dead dog that needs avenging, it’ positively deconstructionist.
As a film that expresses pure style, attitude, and action, John Wick is quite incredible. The visual flair on display takes ample inspiration from quite a wide variety of previous flavours of action, from Hong Kong and Korean cop flicks to martial arts movies to the surreal, neon soaked, edge of exploitation films. The film has also been noted as something of a return for Keanu Reeves, who portrays Wick as totally consumed and probably autistic. I have actually started to see that in a lot of his characters, he is probably the best actor at playing a character as autistic whether a script calls for it or not.
I actually find that really interesting as someone on the autism spectrum myself, he always seems to have trouble expressing himself in a way I can actually identify with in a way I cannot with any other actor. So I am always happy to see him get a starring vehicle and to see people like me as action heroes. If the primary purpose of the action genre is populist catharsis then diversity is it’s greatest weapon in the modern world, while John Wick may appear to some and be written as a stock white protagonist, but Reeves trademark stiltedness makes him a representative of a frequently unseen segment of the population. It is hard to write an autistic character, especially a high functioning one, it is hard to directly reference it without it defining the character in a way that autism should not define real humans. So don’t write autistic characters, write them normal and get actors to portray them as autistic like Keanu Reeves seems to do all the time, it certainly helps me connect. 5/5