John Wick (and five of the best movies about hitmen)
From a member of the fictional rock band Wyld Stallyns in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure to hacker turned saviour of the human race in The Matrix, Keanu Reeves' long and varied career has seen him take on just about every type of role you could think of; police officers, Shakespearean lotharios, even the son of the Devil himself, Reeves has done the lot. Now, as he enters his 50s, he returns in the title role for John Wick as a retired assassin who finds himself pulled back into the game by loss and vengeance.
Directed by Chad Stahelski, a man who has spent most of his long career in hollywood as a stunt co-ordinator for films like 300 and V for Vendetta, John Wick finds Reeves' character doing his best to enjoy his retirement from life as one of the world's best hired killers following the death of his wife.
Turning his back on the criminal underworld in which he made his living, Wick is attempting to live a quiet life of solitude with his only companion, Daisy, a puppy given to him by his dying wife as means of helping him cope without her. However, his peace is soon shattered when a gang of car thieves break into his house while he is sleeping after taking a liking to his car, a vintage 1969 Ford Mustang.
Sneaking in under cover of darkness, the thieves are able to give John a hiding before stealing his car and, to add insult to injury, killing his dog. The thieves, for their part, are led by the son of an infamous Russian gangster named Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), but Viggo is less than pleased with his son's actions because what the the thieves don't know is that the person they've just robbed and beaten up is the underworld's most feared assassin. Or, as Viggo puts it: “John isn't exactly the bogeyman. He's the man you hire to kill the f***ing bogeyman.” Viggo respects John, but knows that sooner or later he will come for his son Iosef (Alfie Allen), so he turns to the one man he thinks might be able to take him out – John's mentor, Marcus (Willem Defoe).
Even though it's his first stint in the director's chair, Chad Stahelski has been putting the action into action films for many years and as you'd expect from someone with his pedigree, John Wick is a slick action flick with heaps of brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, white-knuckled car chases and plenty of explosions, but this offers a bit more than your average big, dumb action movie. The plot is a pretty straightforward revenge narrative but the script is well written and in addition to the likes of Keanu Reeves, Willem Defoe and Michael Nyqvist there are also appearances from Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Dean Winters, making for an understated but well chosen cast. It's been a bit of a surprise hit at the box office and with a sequel and a video game already in the pipeline, there looks to be plenty more where this came from.
The film is out now on DVD shelves (you can order it on the right-hand side of the page) and you can find the trailer below, beneath that we've picked five of the best films about professional assassins...
Luc Besson already had some impressive films under his belt like Le Grand Blue and La Femme Nikita by the time he directed his first English-language film, Léon: The Professional, in 1994. The film stars Jean Reno as the titular hired killer who takes the 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) under his wing when her parents and brother are murdered, teaching her the tricks of his trade to help her get revenge on her family's killers, led by a corrupt police officer named Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Slick, stylish and brimming with the same dark humour that permeates many of Besson's films, this as good as anything he's ever done and Portman's big screen debut is as impressive as it is unsettling. Not to be missed.
Billed as a “roaring rampage of revenge”, Quentin Tarantino's two-part film centres around Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who attempt to kill her when she tries to leave behind her life with its leader, Bill (David Carradine). When she awakes from the resulting coma four months later, Kiddo set out for revenge and begins to assassinate the assassins. Part revenge story, part homage to martial arts films, Kill Bill is still one of Tarantino's best moments and in Kiddo – codenamed Black Mamba - he created one of the most fearsome female assassins ever committed to celluloid.
Based on the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth, Fred Zinneman's 1973 film stars Edward Fox as a killer hired by a French terrorist group to assassinate the president, Charles de Gaulle, when their own assassination attempt ends in failure. Working his way through Europe in a game of cat-and-mouse with Interpol, the authorities are caught in a race against time to catch the killer before he strikes, but the Jackal is always one step ahead. Zinneman's tense, slick crime thriller still looks as stylish today and it's still one of the best hitman movies ever made.
Not every film about a hitman needs to be as deadly serious as its protagonist's profession and George Armitage's 1997 film is a case in point. John Cusack stars as Martin Q. Blank, a hired killer who finds himself attending his own high school reunion as cover for a hit that just happens to involve a target from his home town of Grosse Point, Michigan. However, on meeting an old flame and discovering that his mark is her father, he has a change of heart and soon finds himself being chased by his employer and the FBI, as well as another assassin called Grocer, who wants Blank to join his 'assassin's union'. Funny, action-packed and anything but the predictable hitman movie formula, this is a completely different take on the hitman idea and very much worth a look.
You only need to glance at the box office numbers for the Bourne series of films to see how much of a success Paul Greengrass has had with this franchise based around an amnesiac government agent trying to find out the truth about his past. The films have transformed Matt Damon into a bone fide action hero and even though spin-off The Bourne Legacy didn't quite live up to the high standards of the other films, Greengrass and Damon have already reunited to work on a fourth 'proper' Bourne film, due in 2016, but it all started with this first instalment. If you like action films, or espionage movies, and somehow haven't seen this yet, stop what you're doing and seek this one out, it's brilliant.