This review contains some very minor spoilers.
There is, within 'John Wick,' not one ounce of wasted action. The entire movie is a masterclass in efficiency. It's actually startling how precise the entire movie is. From the dialogue, to the action sequences, to the way John Wick (Keanu Reeves) dispatches bad guys with brutal effectiveness, it's all about completing an action in the most efficient and memorable way possible. If there were an action director university, one of the first courses of study should be 'John Wick' 101: The Art of Efficient Action.
The club sequence in 'John Wick' epitomizes what I'm talking about. I feel, if I had sufficient time, that I could write thousands of glowing, hyperbolic words on how that sequence makes me feel as an action movie aficionado. Since I don't have the time, and you most likely don't have the patience, I'll distill gushing into a few succinct thoughts. The aforementioned club scene is meticulously planned, expertly choreographed, and flawlessly edited. Wick, an ex-hitman brought back into the fold under extenuating circumstances, is a ferocious fighter, but he doesn't waste a single movement or bullet. As he storms through a nightclub, killing Russian mafia with calculated martial arts and ruthless double-taps, the whole arrangement turns into a sort of bloody ballet. The editing never betrays the abilities of the stuntmen, or Reeves. This isn't an action sequence where rapid-fire cuts blur the reality of what's happening. The camera is steady. Cuts are judicious. It's so perfectly constructed, so flawlessly executed that I'm unsure if there was a better action sequence in all of 2014 (although, 'The Raid 2's car chase is pretty astounding also).
However, it isn't just the action in 'John Wick' that makes it one of the most imaginative and entertaining movies from last year. The script is just as devastatingly precise. There's another moment in the movie that illustrates this perfectly. We've established that Wick is an ex-hitman. What we haven't discussed is why he goes on his gun-toting rampage of revenge. A few Russian gangsters break in one night, steal his prized Mustang, and kill his beloved dog. Once the dog is dead, all bets are off right? I mean, it's an open ticket for a man like John Wick to utterly lay waste to whomever is responsible. We never fault him for his decision, because it's so reasonable. Who kills a dog? I mean, really? Anyway, what I'm getting at is that without knowing anything about John Wick's past, the movie describes exactly who he is by a two-letter response uttered by the movie's mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). Tarasov is on the phone with an associate who tells him that Tarasov's son (Alfie Allen), stole John Wick's car, and killed his dog. In one of the best delivered lines in all of 2014, Tarasov responds with a decisively frightened "Oh!" and hangs up.
That "oh," impressively describes exactly who John Wick is, who he was, and what he will do to those responsible. I can't think of another movie that has packed so much characterization into such a small utterance. Like the movie's action, the movie's dialogue is all about efficiency. Like I said, never a wasted moment. Never a wasted movement.
Reeves' physical ability here is startling. The action choreography appears to be grueling to say the least. The result is gun-fu gunplay which is viciously artistic. He's perfect for this part. A loner, with a depressing past, who isn't asked to say a whole lot, but is asked to do a ton.
Finally, adding to the overall ambiance is the complete world-building creation of a criminal underworld that operates seemingly separated from regular society. When Wick returns to the world of hitmen, his currency is gold coins and he checks into The Continental. A swanky criminal-only hotel that caters to those of Wick's ilk. The hotel is supposed to be neutral ground. Even criminals have a code, and here the possibilities are endless. I suspect that an entire cable TV show could be based on the occupants of The Continental.
'John Wick' was truly one of the great surprises of 2014. It gets even better with subsequent viewings. Observing how quick and precise the action scenes are is intoxicating. There's nothing like well-choreographed, expertly edited action to bring a run-of-the-mill movie out of the doldrums of been-there-done-than and into the light. And, 'John Wick' certainly is a light among its peers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sporting two discs (50GB Blu-ray and DVD) and a downloadable Digital Copy, 'John Wick' is slightly above what you'd probably consider a barebones release. The discs are packed in a standard keepcase. A slipcover is provided.
While 'John Wick' was filmed digitally, it looks and feels very cinematic. Most of the movie's appeal comes from its moodiness, and atmosphere. It's dark. Shadows everywhere. Color filters are used frequently to give the movie an otherworldly appearance. When presented in 1080p it all comes together. The video presentation provided by Lionsgate is sharp and on point.
One thing you'll notice right out of the gate is that most of the movie's major set pieces take place at night or in heavily darkened surroundings. Shadows are a driving force throughout the movie. Black areas are abundant. If this movie suffered from any amount of noticeable crushing it'd be almost impossible to watch. Thankfully, that's not the case. The shadows here only accentuate lines and details, never wholly blotting them out. As John makes his way through the darkness of the Red Circle club, killing anyone who attacks him, everything is clearly visible. Much of the bathed-in-darkness action reminds me of that stellar scene in 'Skyfall' where all we can see are the silhouettes of Bond and the guy he's fighting. That's how good this looks.
The color filtering could be considered excessive, but that's simply down to personal preference. Yellow and cyan filters are used, though they only seem to add to the ethereal feel of the film. Close-up detail is magnificent. I mean, even in these dark surroundings, with shadows looming around every face, there's still ample facial and textual detail in every shot. There isn't any visible noise or aberrations to speak of. It's one of the best looking presentations I've seen in a while.
'John Wick' comes equipped with Dolby Atmos capability. As of right now I don't have Dolby Atmos set up in my home. However, the default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 is a raucous, ear-blistering good time. I mean, this is a loud mix. Even the Dolby Atmos introduction before the menu is fantastic, and just about blows your ear drums out.
There's so much to love about this mix. It's one of those movies that you crank up and immerse yourself in. It's demo material through and through. The movie's music pounds relentlessly as Wick blasts through bad guys. The sub works overtime to produce enough thumping to keep up with everything that's going on. It's one of the most bass-heavy mixes I've ever heard, and that's including movies like 'Pacific Rim' and 'Godzilla'. Seriously, it's on that level. The bass will rumble whatever room you're watching it in. It engulfs you.
True to the movie's preciseness are the sound effects which are sharp, and perfectly placed within the soundfield. Directionality is superb. Multiple gunshots thud (the gunshots here are more thud-thud than bang-bang) from every direction. The surround channels produce these shots with stunning clarity. Bullets wiz from one side of the scene to the other, traveling seamlessly from back to front and vice versa. Dialogue, can be a little on the low side in the beginning of the film (some low-talking and whispering), though it's quickly remedied when things amp up. For the most part dialogue is perfectly clear and is prioritized in the front speakers. The rear speakers are up to the task also, producing all sorts of ambient sound that throws you right in the middle of the action. Good grief I love listening to this movie. It sounds amazing.
If you told me in 2013 that one of my favorite movies of 2014 would star Keanu Reeves as a hitman, I would've laughed you off. It turns out you would have been a prophet, because 'John Wick' is definitely on my short list of best films of 2014. It isn't because it's transcendently emotional (although its beginning has a decidedly 'Up' feel that really works), or that it's particularly an important film (although a case could be made that it definitely it's important for its genre). It's that 'John Wick' is able to take a genre that consistently spits out mediocre fodder, and tweaks it just enough to make it feel fresh and invigorating. In stark contrast to something like 'Expendables 3', 'John Wick' excels at all technical fundamentals, which creates a fluid motion that never loses the viewer. It's as beautiful as it is ruthless.
Along with being a great genre flick, this is a demo disc in both audio and video departments, but especially audio. If you have – or plan on installing – a Dolby Atmos setup, this should be at the top of the list. The sound is just fantastic, there's no two ways about it. In the end, 'John Wick' comes highly recommended.