Friday, February 20, 2015

John Wick

In The Equalizer (2014; dir. Antoine Fuqua) a former highly skilled assassin emerges from retirement partially induced by the death of the woman he loved to combat Russian mobsters.  In John Wick (2014; dir. Chad Stahelski) a former highly skilled assassin in mourning over his lover’s death emerges from retirement to combat Russian mobsters.  It is not that one film has copied the other.  The idea of a retired assassin lured from retirement by personal affront or moral outage is an attractive plotline.  Even more so when the assassin is so skilled that there is little reason to doubt that he will succeed in defeating adversaries.  One difference between these two films is production values.  John Wick is competently made and tightly executed, but The Equalizer is a more artful film, with better acting (Denzel Washington), cinematography, and a more compelling backstory.  When the head Russian crime lord learns that his son has stupidly stolen John Wick’s car, killed his dog, and beaten him up, he groans because he knows from past experience that if John Wick decides to seek revenge, nothing will stop him.  In effect, that moment strips the film of dramatic tension—John Wick will win.  The film thus proceeds to show how John Wick does what he does.  There is much shooting and mayhem. Russian mobsters die left and right.  Even though the film begins with a scene in which John Wick, badly wounded in a deserted parking lot, passes out, thereby suggesting his death, as the film makes its way forward we come to suspect that even this scene will be followed by another in which John gets back up and moves on.  We are not disappointed.  John Wick depends for whatever success it achieves on two factors: one is that we in the audience enjoy watching evildoers destroyed; the other is that we relish violence of every sort, especially when we can delude ourselves into believing that violence that serves moral retribution is somehow violence justified. 

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