JOHN WICK: Keanu Reeves is an action man
That nice-worn trope doesn’t make John Wick an easy sell but audiences in the USA and Europe have responded to former stunt performers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s $20m action romp with sizeable box-office returns around the world.
“People are little familiar with a former killer dragged back to the violent life against his desire” agrees Keanu Reeves a star, who plays the former assassin-for-hire. Keanu Reeves was instrumental in the appointment of Leitch and Stahelski, later having worked with them both on The Matrix Revolutions.
Though set in contemporary New York city, John Wick exists in what Leitch and Stahelski call a ‘hyper-real’ world that pits him against fearsome Russian mobsters gang. “We tried to show New York in a different view,” Stahelski says. “Actually we developed the locations wanting you to think you could look them up in the phone book and go there because they look so cool.”
And just like the realistic-but-stylised world of the film, from when John straps on his guns. Keanu Reeves’ martial arts-inspired fighting and shooting style is balletic and Frenetic but also quite real.
Almost total responsible for John Wick’s visual language though, told Stahelski, is Reeves himself. “We really have worked with so many action heroes.” he told. “How many are going to cry over a puppy and a letter in their boxer shorts? Actually there aren’t a lot of action guys out there who can show you that task, they don’t know how.”
Reeves agreed that, referencing revenge flicks like Unforgiven that feature heroes with vulnerability. “So there‘s a grace to him but also a grit.” about 50-year-old star says of the titular killer. “He’s kind of schlumpy. When he takes that shower and you see the tattoo he looks nice, but I asked the directors if they wanted me to have more muscle and they said, ‘No. we just want you to look eligible.”
The secret, Leitch and Stahelski explain, it was settling on John Wick’s distinctive tone early and sticking to it completely, letting it inform everything from the costuming to the performances. And It’s a trick they’ve learnt after 20 years on sets under visionaries including Zack Snyder as well as David Fincher and the Wachowskis.
“People keep asking if I’m back… Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.” Says John Wick. It seems like he took the words right out of Reeves’ mouth.
“As a choreographers the one question we ask directors is “What’s the tone?” Stahelski says, “Provide us a reference and do you want Taken, do you want Jackie Chan? The major mistake most new directors who’ve come from stunts or second unit make is not knowing that, They say, ‘lt is kind of that and kind of this…’ and you can tell nobody has a clue.”
Of course It’s a commanding return to a genre Reeves has often had success in. He says “I haven’t done that many action films”, before admitting to a list of some of the most impactful action films in cinema. from Point Break and Speed to The Matrix.
Just like those films, Leitch and Stahelski have wisely used Reeves’ presence as much as they can, getting his considerable action chops front and centre. Stahelski says, “You can already see how the Hollywood studio version works.” “They take the greatest actors and flash the camera around and use stunt doubles and camera technique. Are you invested in that character? And you are up until they do action, then all of a sudden you’re watching Captain America’s stunt double or triple.”
With Reeves back doing what he does best, people could be looking at a Liam Neeson-esque resurgence. One point in the film. John Wick says himself, “People keep asking if I’m back… Right. I’m thinking I’m back.” It seems like he took the words right out of Reeves’ mouth.