Taglines: Don’t set him off.
When a retired hit man is forced back into action by a brutal Russian mobster, he hunts down his adversaries with the ruthlessness that made him a crime underworld legend in John Wick, a stylish tale of revenge and redemption set in a brilliantly imagined New York City and starring World Stunt Award-winner Keanu Reeves.
After the sudden death of his beloved wife, John Wick (Reeves) receives one last gift from her, a beagle puppy named Daisy, and a note imploring him not to forget how to love. But John’s mourning is interrupted when his 1969 Boss Mustang catches the eye of sadistic thug Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen). When John refuses to sell the car, Iosef and his henchmen break into his house and steal it, beating John unconscious and leaving Daisy dead. Unwittingly, they have just reawakened one of the most brutal assassins the underworld has ever seen.
John’s search for his stolen vehicle takes him to a side of New York City that tourists never see, a hyper-real, super-secret criminal community, where John Wick was once the baddest guy of all. After learning that his attacker is the only son of a former associate, vicious Russian crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), John turns his attention to vengeance. As word spreads that the legendary hit man is after his son, Viggo offers a generous bounty to anyone who can bring John down. With a veritable army on his trail, John once again becomes the remorseless killing machine the underworld once feared, launching a pitched battle against Viggo and his soldiers that could mean the end of them both.
About the Production
When producer Basil Iwanyk of Thunder Road Pictures first read Derek Kolstad’s original screenplay for John Wick, he found himself drawn to the contradictions and complications faced by its main character, a seemingly ordinary man who harbors an extraordinary secret.
“The tone of the script was subversive and really fun,” says Iwanyk. “It had a very clear emotional throughline and a great premise for an action movie. John Wick is the story of a man who loses his wife and has his home invaded, his car stolen and his dog killed. It’s a very human premise for a big action movie, something that could happen to anyone. To me, the holy grail of the action genre is to pair a very simple and very accessible premise like this with a hyper-real style, as we’ve done with this film.”
Kolstad found his inspiration in some of his favorite film-noir classics. “When I was a kid, I watched a lot of movies,” he explains. “My favorites always had a revenge motif. And I love the antihero. So I wanted to explore what would happen if the worst man in existence found salvation. Would it be true to his core? When the source of his salvation is ripped from him, what happens? Do the gates of Hades open?”
And so began the extraordinary journey of John Wick, the only man to ever walk away from a shadowy world of elite professional killers and survive, only to be sucked back in by fate. “John’s the kind of guy who walks into a room and has everything laid out in his mind like a chess game,” says Kolstad. “In the underworld, he’s a legend, and he’s been away long enough that the young up-and-comers have heard the name, but don’t necessarily believe all the stories.”
Given the character’s fabled career as an assassin, the filmmakers initially imagined an older actor in the role. “Instead, we decided to look for someone who is not literally older, but who has a seasoned history in the film world,” says Iwanyk. “Keanu Reeves is someone I’ve always wanted to work with.”
Reeves’ impeccable action pedigree, which includes the groundbreaking Matrix trilogy, two chapters of the blockbuster Speed franchise and the daredevil adventure Point Break, has justifiably earned him iconic status in the action world. But for the past five years, Reeves has been devoting most of his time to his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi.
“So audiences haven’t seen much of him,” notes Iwanyk. “We thought that gave him a fresh and interesting edge. I think the audience will believe that this character has been retired for five years, because in some ways Keanu retired as an action star for a while.”
Reeves signed on to headline John Wick, working closely with the writer to refine the story. “Basil and Peter Lawson of Thunder Road brought the script to me with the idea that I would be a part of such a great collaboration,” the actor says. “We all agreed on the potential of the project. I love the role, but you want the whole story, the whole ensemble to come to life.”
Kolstad says there was no “star temperament” working with Reeves. “What I really like about Keanu is that he’s a normal, laidback guy,” he says. “He’s incredibly bright and such a hard worker. We spent as much time developing the other characters as we did his. He recognizes that the strength of the storyline lies in even the smallest details.”
Looking to infuse the film with innovative action sequences that would set it apart from the pack, Reeves contacted the filmmaking team of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, co-founders of 87Eleven, one of Hollywood’s most elite stunt groups. Reeves and Stahelski originally met on the set of The Matrix and Stahelski eventually became the actor’s stunt double. Together with longtime friend Leitch, Stahelski has worked on dozens of high-profile action films, and the pair are now two of the most in-demand second-unit directors in Hollywood.
Approached to design and film the blistering action scenes of John Wick, Stahelski surprised the producers by asking if he could pitch his ideas as director. After years at the top of his profession, he was ready to transition to the next level, with his longtime collaborator Leitch on hand to produce. When this screenplay landed on his desk, he knew it was time to grab the opportunity.
“It had gun fights, knife work, car chases and lots of hand-to-hand combat,” says Stahelski. “Dave and I talked about the potential to make a great graphic-novel-influenced action movie set in an almost mythical world. We pitched Keanu, Basil and the guys at Thunder Road the idea of John Wick as an urban legend, a thriller assassin movie with a realistic vibe and an otherworldly setting.”
Reeves was already confident the duo had the skill and creativity to stage John Wick’s groundbreaking action sequences better than anyone else. “Hearing Chad speak about the material and how he thought he could visually bring it to life was revelatory,”
Reeves says. “He and Dave were interested in making each character unforgettable. They had given thought to the themes of the movie, the double life, the hyper-reality. They’ve been closely following the film since day one and trying to bring out all the emotion that is in this piece.”
As a filmmaking team, Stahelski and Leitch were the ideal choice for John Wick, according to Reeves. “Chad and Dave are experts in terms of this genre,” the actor notes. “The dialogue is hard-boiled but it’s also got the humor of graphic novels, the kind of amazingly original imagery and framing that we’ve come to associate with them. It’s a unique vision. I thought it was exciting and really cool to see all of these influences and experience and craft come together.”
Iwanyk was immediately sold on Stahelski and Leitch’s approach to the film. “Their take for the movie and their visual presentation were so in line with what we were thinking the movie should be,” says the producer. “Everything from the color palette to the way in which the action should be staged and shot to the lookbook just felt right.”
Directed by: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Bridget Moynahan
Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad
Production Design by: Dan Leigh
Cinematography by: Jonathan Sela
Film Editing by: Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir
Costume Design by: Luca Mosca
Set Decoration by: Susan Bode
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
MPAA Rating: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.
Studio: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate Films
Release Date: October 24, 2014