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Fantastic Fest capsule review: John Wick

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

What is up with harm to cute animals this film season? First, an adorable puppy, wounded by abuse, is used as a plot device in “The Drop.”

Then in John Wick, all the titular character, a former hitman who left The Life a while back, has left of his late wife is a puppy. He loves his car, the only thing that seems to be keeping him sane is doing donuts in an empty lot. But the puppy is a connection to the missus. Don’t mess with that puppy, you cartoonishly evil Russian gangsters. You wouldn’t like John Wick when he’s out of retirement.

Maybe it’s the minimal amount of dialogue, maybe it‘s the fact that the Japanese do the “assassin genre” spectacularly well, but there is something about “John Wick” that feels translated from another language, like the whole thing was dubbed into English after the fact.

Which is not too surprising considering this is the directorial debut from Chad Stahelski, best known as a well-regarded stunt coordinator. This movie is about motion and action and shooting people in the head, not chatter. You see, it turns out that one of the cartoonish Russian gangsters is the son of the head of the Russian mob and as much as said head is bummed by this turn of events, he takes a hit out on Wick, his former employee. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy on “Game of Thrones”) plays the son, and I guess he just plays disappointing heirs now and much like Theon, you know he’s doomed. There are some fun touches like a hotel for hitmen; nobody’s supposed to “conduct business” there, but you just know that rule is going out the window. With top drawer paycheck acting Willem Dafoe and Ian ‘Al Swearengen” McShane.

“John Wick” screens again 12:10 p.m. Sept. 23.