John Wick Chapter 4 (2023) ***** – Seen (three times) at the cinema

The Godfather Part II of action movies. It’s taken me three visits to fully appreciate the visual, aural and thematic splendor. Usually when someone pays homage to the likes of John Ford, David Lean, Francis Coppola, Akira Kurosawa, Luchino Visconti, Ridley Scott, Michael Mann, James Bond (yup) and the myriad directors who filmed a car chase, the result is rarely top-notch. That’s not the case here.

Let’s begin with sound. The bone-jarring punch that opens this picture is easily the best aural opening of any picture and would make the case for Imax straight off the bat. That’s followed by thematic motifs, the sun (I can’t tell if it’s rising or falling) and the stairs that will figure so prominently, the sun especially a gorgeous palette, whether streaming through the Eiffel Tower or in fabulous sunrise mode to indicate the beginning of the climactic duel, a throwback to the classic western, and as operatic in its composition as anything Sergio Leone could throw at us.

Not to mention that this is essentially a story of bounty hunters, and that puts it squarely in the window of the spaghetti western. And could you get any closer to Leone than naming one of the pair of assassins in pursuit Mr Nobody? As the price on John Wick’s head reaches dizzying proportions – $40 million – it’s open season. Setting aside the punching and kicking and whacking and ramming with cars, nobody has filmed shoot-outs like these since the glory days of Michael Mann.  

And that’s before we come to Hollywood’s best-ever dog, a cojones-chewing throat-mauling nutcase that can turn cute at any given moment. And if you are looking for thematic completion there you have it, this entire series began because an idiot killed John Wick’s dog. This is a dog as if it had somehow been born out of John Wick.

Perhaps the best element of the spoken and unspoken brotherhood that infuses the picture is  the underlying cynicism that accompanies it. You save someone and they owe you. Mr Nobody (Shamier Anderson) comes to Wick’s rescue twice, once cynically because the price on his head is not yet high enough and then out of acknowledgement for his enemy’s action regarding the dog.

And it takes a moment, given Wick is never permitted explanation, to realise that Wick’s final action will provide a satisfactory outcome to all concerned.

Only a director of note would think to capture the sound of sand tricking through an hourglass and the silence when it stops, or the tap of a tiny spoon against the tip of a tiny coffee cup. The Marquis (Bill Skarsgard), tasked by the invisible High Table with bringing down Wick, enjoys such extraordinary wealth you wonder what more does a man need – except of course to satisfy his ambitions within the closed circle of the High Table. Probably no supporting member of any cast has ever been provided with such elegant narrative.

Underneath blazing chandeliers in a room the size of a small town, he chooses one cake from an immeasurably large selection – the rest of which presumably go to waste – and only, delicately with a fork, eats half. As if never sated, he must lick the last of his coffee from his spoon. The female riders in his stables are practising with sabers, you imagine for more than acrobatic purpose. His final act reveals the man in all his arrogance and cowardice.

You wonder where the heck did Chad Stahelski come from to make a movie of such majesty. Yes, I know he’s a former stunt man but that’s like asking Yakima Canutt to conjure up something as iconic as The Searchers. The preceding Wick trilogy, as good as they are, did not set you up for this.

There’s not a single wasted character. The previous betrayer Winston (Ian McShane) returns and is not just blamed for the whole debacle but finds his prospects tied in even more closer to his one-time buddy. The Harbinger (Clancy Brown), who begins as messenger and  transitions to intermediary and finally judge,  has such a mythical presence  you wish Marvel could pay heed and hire someone with his gravitas.

Stahelski has such command of his material that he can set up twists for which his narrative skills provide solution. Instead of the traditional sons of gangster pictures, and bear in mind it was an errant son who started this whole business off, it’s daughters, one innocent of her father’s occupation, the other complicit. Some codes are replete with honor, others more practical.

Once the deadline is set for a duel to resolve the situation, blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) needs Wick to make it, but, having assisted him, evens the odds by slicing through his hand. At the end of a tortuous ordeal fending off the multitudes in Paris, Wick has a 200-step climb to his final destination. Further multitudes lie in wait. He gets to the top before he rolls back down and has to start all over again, the clock ticking.

And there can’t have been a better final image than in  Wick loosening his belt.

Brilliant script by Shay Hatten (Army of the Dead, 2021) and Michael Finch (Predators, 2010), with some lines that will enter the screenwriting Hall of Fame, and Wick and his supporting cast are stupendous, but in the end this film belongs to the director and a movie that calls out to be seen in the cinema and to be called a masterpiece.

I’ll probably go back next week.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

5 thoughts on “John Wick Chapter 4 (2023) ***** – Seen (three times) at the cinema”

  1. I could not agree more, Brian. I love this franchise and it continues to get even better. When I saw the headline for the post I did lol. I am sure Mrs. Chess would be ok with a repeat Imax view, but I’m not sure she’d be up for a third. I loved your sentence regarding no wasted characters. Great observation, sir.

    Liked by 2 people

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