Movies about revenge and world-weary men forced back into a world of violence were once the territory of Charles Bronson. These days, they star Liam Neeson, to the point where even the ones not starring Liam Neeson can be called Liam Neeson movies. This year, “The Equalizer” was Denzel Washington’s not-so-good Liam Neeson movie. “The November Man” was Pierce Brosnan’s not-so-good Liam Neeson movie. “A Walk Among the Tombstones” was Liam Neeson’s pretty damn good Liam Neeson movie. Now, Keanu Reeves has his Liam Neeson movie “John Wick,” and early reviews suggest it’s more “Tombstones” than “Equalizer.”
Reeves plays an ex-hitman seeking revenge when a mobster’s son murders his dog, and critics have called Reeves’ stern, highly physical performance as one of his better turns as of late. Many have also praised the direction by veteran stuntmen and novice directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (Reeves’ stuntman on “The Matrix”) for their clearly photographed, highly balletic action, which has been compared to John Woo. Given the reliance on ADD-rhythms and compositions that a lot of modern action films have, “John Wick’s” style ought to be a breath of fresh air even if its story is familiar.
“John Wick” is in theaters October 24.
Peter Debruge, Variety
There are no good guys in “John Wick,” but there are some great actors working alongside Keanu Reeves in his darkest and most tormented role yet: a stunningly lethal contract killer who goes on a rampage after a Russian thug murders his dog. Yes, his dog. If you can stomach the setup, then the rest is pure revenge-movie gold, as Reeves reminds what a compelling action star he can be, while the guy who served as his stunt double in “The Matrix” makes a remarkably satisfying directorial debut, delivering a clean, efficient and incredibly assured thriller…Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Tasha Robinson, The Dissolve
What’s left to put a new shine on a dull old routine? With “John Wick,” first-time director Chad Stahelski (a longtime stuntman) and screenwriter Derek Kolstad (“The Package,” “One In The Chamber”) tackle the problem by building a stylish film that’s less about the revenge-seeker than the setting that shapes the retribution. Without giving up on the same-ol’-same-ol’ “one dude kills 50 dudes” revenge-thriller routine, they create a sleek, shiny environment that feels fresher than the story. Read more.
Drew Taylor, The Playlist
Most of the credit for “John Wick’s” success falls squarely on Reeves. As a performer, he has always been underrated…As an action performer, he’s even better than he was in “The Matrix” films. His movements have become more refined and balletic, his poise graceful and exacting. The way he uses his guns, not just as inanimate weapons but as extensions of himself, lends the action some additional retro novelty, since most of the time they feel like something out of the works of John Woo (or his imitators). Bullets fly and dance and detonate flesh, and Reeves is their conductor. Read more.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice
That’s partly because Reeves is just plain awesome and partly because “John Wick” was made by people who understand action: Leitch and Stahelski have been working for years as stuntmen, and “John Wick” features the most beautifully choreographed action sequences I’ve seen in an American movie in years. None of that “Expendables”-style muddy camera work and ADD-sous-chef editing here. Read more.