June 9, 2023

When “John Wick” debuted in 2014, it wasn’t exactly a mega hit, but the film was well-received enough to gain a cult following via word-of-mouth. It brought in $14 million in its first weekend — double what it was projected to make. Not bad for a film that Variety noted was predicted to be “another nail in [Keanu Reeves’] career coffin.” And it was well-earned. “John Wick” felt like a minor evolution in the action movie genre, combining multiple techniques and stylistic elements to create something that felt original yet indebted to action movie history.

When the film starts, you’re drawn into an affecting depiction of grief, with Reeves’ titular hitman introduced as a widower suffering in the wake of his wife’s death. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think “John Wick” is a nuanced and insightful exploration of grief, but Reeves shuffling through an oppressively sterile modern home alone, accompanied by little to no score, is effective at conveying his loneliness.

The minimal sound design in these moments is, again, nothing revolutionary, but shows a sensitivity on the part of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Every shuffle of a bed cover, slow sigh, and footstep dragged across tiled floor demonstrates the first-time directors’ awareness of the importance of dynamics. Things are about to get extremely intense, but that eventual switch is made all the more impactful by these quiet opening moments, even if there is the regrettable “Fridging” element — a favorite practice of Christopher Nolan — whereby the dead wife trope is used to motivate the central male character.

With subsequent films in the franchise, audiences would be thrown right into the action, helping to emphasize the relentless struggle faced by John Wick, but sacrificing that interplay of tones that made the first film so intriguing.

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