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Recent action flicks pale in comparison to ‘John Wick’

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(Courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

(Courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

Forget horror movies this season, if you want a real thrill ride, go see “John Wick.”

You may have heard some of the buzz surrounding this film, which is largely due to Keanu Reeves’ “return” to the silver screen. Despite this popular belief, in the past decade since the third and final installment of the “Matrix” trilogy, Reeves has appeared in about 15 films. In “John Wick,” Reeves portrays a stone-cold ex-hit man who must come out of retirement to exact revenge on Russian men who stole his car and killed his dog. While this synopsis sounds clichéd and stale, the film does an excellent job of distinguishing itself from other action movies.

Firstly, the acting. In most action-thrillers, we have simply accepted bad acting as a staple of the genre – poor performances are acceptable because viewers are only going to see an action movie to watch guns fire and cars explode. This film, while showcasing incredibly accurate gun physics and perfectly choreographed fight scenes, allows the key thespians to generate applaud-worthy performances. Reeves’ portrayal of the titular hit man is believable and stirring. The plot allows for little variation from the classic, emotionless and revenge-driven killer we’ve all come to know and love.

Yet when there is wiggle room for deviation from this norm, Reeves takes full advantage of it. In most scenes, he is too busy murdering people to blow us away with his acting prowess, but there were points in the film that left myself and my fellow movie-goers shivering in fear and, oddly enough, bursting out with laughter. None of these reactions seem accidental – he is simply a more complicated character than expected, and Reeves embodies him expertly. Willem Dafoe and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy in the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones”) also display talent worth mentioning.

Secondly – the plot. Again, like many other revenge or coming-out-of-retirement-for-one-last-job stories, a thick fog of confusion and lack of prior knowledge blankets much of the movie. Thankfully, the story is accessible despite this. Nothing is too easy figure out, but at the same time, the movie doesn’t treat you like an idiot. You feel rewarded by thinking critically, but you can still enjoy the film even without doing so. Modern films should take note of this technique.

Throughout “John Wick” you begin to understand that Wick was previously involved in some sort of hit man corporation, as many shady characters in the movie not only recognize him, but know him by name. The proceedings of this corporation are kept very secret, but as the story progresses, we begin to understand how they work and what their purpose is exactly. This falls on the back burner, however, as deciphering the prologue of Wick is far more interesting.

It would feel wrong to not mention the score. The opening scene, while also cinematically striking, speaks volumes about the choices of music. It is nearly completely devoid of dialogue. The music does all the talking – blending soothing strings with ambient synths to generate a raw, emotional atmosphere that seems nearly misplaced given the movie it resides in. While this atmospheric and emotional presence does not remain throughout much else of the film, it is still worth mentioning. The rest of the film’s score features a pulsating, intense low-drive bass drumbeat that establishes a tense yet epic feeling.

Despite predictability and a few hiccups in comprehension of the story, “John Wick” has (and rightfully so) received positive reviews on almost all fronts and placed second at the box office in its opening weekend. As a result, rumors of a sequel are already in circulation, which, in this one reviewer’s opinion, would be very welcome.

Sutton Bradbury-Koster can be reached at [email protected]

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