Let me tell you a story. A story of stories and how they make me feel, because that is what stories are meant to do.
They are meant to hammer at you until your cold, jaded, forgotten heart lurches in your chest. Until the pit of your stomach falls away like the temple floor beneath Indy’s feet. Until you feel drained of pent up emotion – angst, anguish, laughter, joy, fear, dread, doubt, wonder, thrill, anger, rage – we’re not allowed by society and cultural norms to express. Until we are cleansed of these things in the sacred cathartic act of empathy.
One day back in the fall, I went to the movies. I hadn’t seen anything in a while, and there were several seemingly good options out there, so I decided to make it an entire evening – taking advantage of $2 popcorn Tuesday at Regal – at the theater and ended up watching Gone Girl and John Wick back to back.
This was an excellent decision. Here’s why.
Gone Girl is fraught with tension and suspense. I truly believe it to be an admirable successor to Hitchcock and would call it a modern Psycho. Yes, I think that highly of it.
I’ve quipped many times that Gone Girl is a film that justifies my decision to NEVER EVER GET MARRIED.
The film does an excellent job of storytelling. It is gripping and draws the viewer in. Even when you know what happens, you’re fully convinced Nick is a wife-killing d-bag. Then it smacks you half way through with what’s really going on in a “That Bitch” moment. And it really never lets you go…leading you around by the nose.
It jangles the nerves and gets the viewer all worked up until the very last frame and doesn’t let them go even as the credits roll.
Trapped, like Nick.
Well. Gone Girl did it’s job. I felt something. Boy did I feel something.
I left the theater twitching mentally, completely creeped out, and walking a knife edge between tension and being drained.
Another popcorn. Refill the drink. Bring on John Wick.
I’m just going to go ahead and get this out of the way and say John Wick has become probably my favorite Keanu Reeves flick.
It’s a guilty pleasure action flick that has a beautifully symmetrical, surprisingly meaningful story to hang the violent body count on.
It begins with a dark and gritty hook. Well considered and laid out. Rather calm and deliberate. Cut to black and alarm clock announces the day of his wife’s funeral. Cut back to the illness and the joys found and lost. Progress forward again to the aftermath of her death, leaving John one last gift. A dog to love, to love him, and to give him purpose so he can begin healing.
Enter Scum-Bag Russian Mobster Theon Greyjoy. We already know it’s not going to end well for him. It never ends well for Theon.
He steals John Wick’s car. Kills John Wick’s dog.
There are two hard and fast rules of life one should not ignore if one values their life.
You don’t mess with a man’s car, and you certainly do not kill a man’s dog.
And John Wick is not just any man.
John Wick is the Boogeyman, rather, he’s the bastard you send to Kill the Boogeyman. The mere mention of his name turns bowels watery.
Anyone think he’s just going to let this go?
Didn’t think so.
Yes, it becomes a gleeful revenge tale told in a rather classy, gentlemanly manner. The film elegantly creates this cultured underworld that operates by its own rules and codes of conduct. Of hitmen – and women – and hotels and clubs and operators and organizations that work to maintain a certain balance and decorum amongst the seedy underbelly of the city.
A civilized world in which the name John Wick carries utmost respect. Damn uncultured kids not showing proper respect. Had Theon just acted with this same code of civility instead of the pompous arrogance common among entitled brats…but I digress.
The film establishes “the way it is, and must be” and follows it step by step until the inevitable conclusion of this gentlemanly shoot ‘em up, culminating in the classic show down in the rain.
It follows the rules and gives the audience the catharsis it desires. It relies upon understood touchstones of storytelling and uses them to great effect. I mean, if you can’t have Nazis as your villain, Russian Mobsters is a close second in my book.
Plus you’ve got this guy’s mustache again. You may recognize him from The Equalizer. His name is Tait Fletcher, and he’s my new favorite “that guy!”
It’s gloriously overblown and larger than life, and that’s what makes it the perfect chaser for Gone Girl.
Where Gone Girl is subtle and stealthily knits your nerves in a net drawn close around your heart, John Wick takes a sledgehammer to the emotional blocks, breaking desires wide open, fulfilling the wishes in the darkest corners, and washes them all away in the rain.
And with puppy kisses.
For a violent revenge flick, John Wick extols the virtues of love more than anything else. Love is what raises us up, makes us better, heals us, and bereft of it, plunges our hearts into the darkest recesses of existence.
That is what good storytelling does for you. It works you up, draws you out, and winds you down. This combo did that for me. An excellent choice, to do this double feature at the theater.
That was then, this is now. I just finished Gone Girl and John Wick for a second time, and my feelings on the subject remain unchanged.