Bridget Moynahan

John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski)

John Wick is all right. It feels like if it’d been made in the nineties, it’d have been revolutionary. Instead, it uses all the revolutionary and not revolutionary film techniques since the nineties to make the ultimate in mainstream heavy metal neo-pulp, with a twist of seventies exploitation for good measure. It succeeds because of lead Keanu Reeves, who’s got the best pleasant angry face and does enough of his stunts—and director Stahelski knows how to showcase Reeves during those stunts—to keep the viewer engaged with his unstoppable killing machine as he moves through the video game of a story.

The film opens with Reeves seemingly fatally wounded, nothing left to do but watch a video of him and Bridget Moynahan on a beach. Cue flashback montage showing how Reeves and Moynahan were happily together (married we find out, post-montage), then she dies (from a long-term fatal illness), then she (posthumously) gets Reeves an adorable little puppy to keep him company. To this point, we haven’t seen Reeves do any action hero stuff. In fact, it feels like the film’s doing a riff on tearjerkers, only tongue in cheek.

Only then Russian mob weasel Alfie Allen steals Reeves’s car and kills the puppy so Reeves is going to get payback. The film’s first act is a lot better written than anything else, even when it feels like video game cutscenes. And John Leguizamo’s first act cameo as the first guy from the old life Reeves meets up with. Turns out Allen is son of Reeves’s former employer, Michael Nyqvist, who owes his empire to Reeves. Great performance from Nyqvist. Not a great part, unfortunately, but a great performance nonetheless.

The rest of the film, outside the detailed world-building with hotels in a Flatiron Building stand-in where all the assassins stay and it’s off limits for contracts and everyone pays each other in single gold coins and Reeves gets power-up pills because it’s kind of just Super Mario Bros. John Wick’s never very complicated. It’s got a lot of guns (without being too gun porn-y, Stahelski’s about the action not the details), a lot of bit characters, and a lot of thorough action scenes courtesy Stahelski, producer and apparently uncredited co-director David Leitch, cinematographer Jonathan Sela, but really editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. Ronaldsdóttir, almost as much as Reeves, makes John Wick. Even when the movie’s too loud for too long—the heavy metal action thing is no joke, they have a new Marilyn Manson song for John Wick. The film’s incredibly committed to itself. Even when it gets a little much. Stahelski’s good at the action scenes but they’re not technically innovative, they’re just excellent. The film’s a series of successfully established techniques, in action, in storytelling, smartly arranged, given life by a perfectly stone-faced Reeves and an exceptional editor.

The supporting cast has some excellent extended cameos—Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe. Lance Reddick… fine, but not excellent because it’s a crap cameo. Adrianne Palicki is better than you’d think in her extended cameo as unscrupulous fellow assassin but she’s not particularly good. She’s fine. The only one not fine is Dean Winters, as Nyqvist’s chief flunky; he serves no purpose in the film other than to take up space. Someone could make something amusing out of it, Winters does not. And Allen’s decent as the standard failed son of great mobster but he ends up with nothing to do. Except somehow be the only person Reeves can’t manage to hit.

Finally, if you are going to give John Wick a watch, I feel I need to warn you about the subtitles. The film stylizes its subtitles in some truly obnoxious ways. The worst thing isn’t even the visual appearance—I mean, of course it is but the absurd visual appearance just draws attention to the pointlessness of the dialogue. If he’s not writing monologues for the guest stars, writer Derek Kolstad’s got no idea what to say. When it’s Reeves, who doesn’t have to say anything (in fact, most of his dialogue is eventually just him repeating back statements from his adversaries), it’s fine. When it’s guest stars monologuing, it’s fine. When it’s the bad guys talking about Reeves coming to kill them and what they need to do?

It’s nonsense.

In the end, Wick’s nonsense and its successes basically even out. It’s definitely a successful action movie, but maybe not a significant one… because it’s just built on previous films’ significant successes. Wick riffs on a number of them, just with the technology and ability to execute them flawlessly, but without any character and without any risk.

So thank goodness for Reeves and Ronaldsdóttir. And Nyqvist.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; written by Derek Kolstad; director of photography, Jonathan Sela;edited by Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Dan Leigh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, and Mike Witherill; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), Alfie Allen (Iosef Tarasov), Willem Dafoe (Marcus), Dean Winters (Avi), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Omer Barnea (Gregori), Toby Leonard Moore (Victor), Daniel Bernhardt (Kirill), Bridget Moynahan (Helen), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Ian McShane (Winston), Bridget Regan (Addy), and Lance Reddick (Charon).


The Recruit (2003, Roger Donaldson)

There’s a very interesting throwaway line in The Recruit. During the traitor’s confession, there’s an implication the betrayal occurred following the CIA ignoring information they could have used to prevent 9/11. Like everything related to 9/11, it’s all implied (this one is less obvious than the others), but it’s definitely there. Given the film seems like a fairytale “young CIA” movie–the “Beverly Hills 90210” approach to it–it implies there was once a more mature film here (are CIA training procedures a matter of public record? I’m pretty sure not).

The top billed Al Pacino is doing one of his standard wizened older (not old) man roles here. He yells a little. His eyes occasionally gleam, reminding of better roles. What’s bothersome about Pacino’s paycheck roles (which he mostly does now, just like De Niro), is he’s still likable (something De Niro never had). I resent myself for enjoying his performance.

Colin Farrell is doing a leading man role–at times it’s impossible not to think of Tom Cruise in The Firm–and he’s solid. Sometimes his job is just to stare intently, other times he does actually act. He and Pacino work well together but, even the Recruit is her best performance I’ve seen, Farrell doesn’t really get anything to work with from Bridget Moynahan. But at least her performance wasn’t making me nauseous like usual.

When the movie’s decent, it fits Donaldson would be making it. When it’s not, he’s way too good for it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer; director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Roger Birnbaum, Jeff Apple and Gary Barber; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Walter Burke), Colin Farrell (James Douglas Clayton), Bridget Moynahan (Layla Moore), Gabriel Macht (Zack), Kenneth Mitchell (Alan) and Mike Realba (Ronnie Gibson).


Lord of War (2005, Andrew Niccol)

Lord of War fails on quite a few levels–I suppose some of the direction is interesting and some of the puns are funny–but it still surprised me when it attempted to be civic-minded in the end. I should have seen it coming, but I was a little distracted by the end. The last scene and one of the first scenes are pretty much it for actual scenes in Lord of War. The present action takes place over nineteen years so most of the storytelling is done in summary or half-scene. A more imaginative director would have had Cage narrate it to the camera throughout, but instead we just get to hear him tell the story instead. Lord of War breaks that cardinal rule of voiceover narration–without Cage’s narration, the film would not make any sense. It would be a loose collection of scenes tied together. The viewer might not even know he was an arms dealer.

I was going to delay the flailing, but I think I’ll end the post on a positive note. Where to start. How about the names… Cage and Jared Leto (Leto plays his brother) play Ukrainian immigrants with Ukrainian names–except when Cage calls Leto “V” (for Vitaly), because “V” just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Actually, the reason for the Ukrainian heritage is for a later event–Cage plays a composite of five arms dealers, so calling it factual is a bit of a stretch. As the arms dealer, Cage is occasionally appealing, but he isn’t operating with any depth. The screenplay is shallow (Niccol made Gattaca, which is deep, so he seems to have burnt-out right away). The dialogue–when it’s not trying to be funny, of course–is bad. Jared Leto still acts with his hair. A flop to the right means his angry, a flop to the left means addicted to cocaine. Ethan Hawke has a crew cut (playing an inexplicably authorized Interpol agent) so he doesn’t get any acting help from his hair. He’s real bad. I mean, it’s a tossup who’s worst in this film, between Leto, Hawke, Bridget Moynahan as the wife or Ian Holm. Moynahan is terrible in a funny way–it’s funny hear her say her lines. It’s absurdly amusing, but poor Holm. Holm is so bad–and so visibly bad, Niccol does nothing but put him out there to embarrass himself–he’s so bad, you’d think he’d won an Oscar in the early 1980s either as Indian independence leader or as composer who had it in for Mozart. He’s awful.

It’s a cheap film too. Niccol’s got a lot CG-aided shots (the opening credits are a bullet going from manufacture to use and it looks like Pixar did it) and they’re cheap and glossy. They look fake, so maybe Niccol’s trying bring films back to the old days when the audience was meant to be aware they were watching a false reality–and I like that kind of thinking and I like those movies–but I don’t think he was going for it.

It rips off Goodfellas. The helicopter from Goodfellas. There’s something really sleazy about ripping Goodfellas.

Now for the good part. Eamonn Walker plays a Liberian warlord. He’s great. This guy ought to be in everything. He should be the new Superman. He’s great.

He almost makes the film worth watching.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Antonio Pinto; production designer, Jean Vincent Puzos; produced by Philippe Rousselet, Niccol, Nicolas Cage, Norman Golightly, Andy Grosch and Chris Roberts; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Yuri Orlov), Jared Leto (Vitali Orlov), Bridget Moynahan (Ava Fontaine), Ian Holm (Simeon Weisz), Eamonn Walker (Baptiste Senior), Sammi Rotibi (Baptiste Junior) and Ethan Hawke (Valentine).


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