John Wick (2014) – Review / Scene Analysis

Action flick, John Wick, unexpectedly knocks its tongue-in-cheek premise miles out of the park. With a composition style wielded some place between a pulpy graphic novel and a slickly brutish 70’s action fest, there’s plenty of multifaceted character in the visual design to ensure that Wick-heads keep returning time after time. Every scene, in the hands of someone less dedicated, might’ve felt too slapstick or idling, but, thankfully, John Wick’s comprehensive scope of contained atmosphere lends massive support to the suspension of disbelief (and investment) I was willing to permit it.

And so, to put one scene under the spotlight, let’s discuss the Red Circle club scene.

As the chase’s intensity grows, the scene’s aesthetic journeys across specific action fight-scene territories. Not only does John, in pursuit of Iosef, battle through his protection with a range of changing tactics, he moves through the different areas which act like bottles of vibrant tones and violent climates.

Like a true assassin, Wick stabs into the background, his priority victim remains unaware of the debris Wick litters around him. Showered in neon light, Wick cannot hide in the shadows, he becomes a flicker of violence, a hurried burst of close quarters assault. This room initiates pressure and pushes the efficiency of Wick into open light, he hides outside the camera’s frame and focus. He punches Victor, his victim, from outside the frame and then proceeds to drown him in water. Drenched in neon blue, as blots of blood red candles harshen the intensity, Wick gets what he needs by way of grizzly ends.

Then, cut to Dario Argento levels of red, the Jacuzzi area – shadows hide in piercing blood-light. Here the intensity of the tones are reversed, blues serve as undercurrents while reds dominate the palate. And then it’s back to blue when the water returns. Wick’s eyes surveil the room for Iosef, plotting his method of attack. This room grants him more freedom to sneak around, at the cost of more bodyguards to kill. The music is essential: soft and melancholy, like a Jacuzzi room might be, funky yet chilled, the vibe touches perfectly on all the sensations of anticipation, it’s predatory. Music and colour compliment the strength of Wick’s icy enigmatism, unpredictability looms above his precision. Suddenly, silhouettes of corpses in mid drop smear blood down the blue tint glass wall. He’s systematically chipping away at the target. The room’s music serves an in-world function, to cover the noise of his murders – his easiest chance at remaining undetected is to use a knife. Once again, the atmosphere of the room serves audience engagement by redirecting the character’s tactics, repeatedly manoeuvring into a fresher style.

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To go slightly into over analysis territory, this shot (above), which starts immediately after it’s set up, supposes some symbolism towards Wick being the devil with the neon light circling out his head like horns (or perhaps it’s a halo, or possibly both – a ‘Satan’s Halo’?). I’d lean towards the speculation being true since it appears in a specific set-up that aligns almost too perfectly to be coincidence. Furthermore, the imagery appears once more later on, reaffirming the likeliness (below). Born of forethought or not, I still appreciate the symbolic presence.

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The scene then plays out openly. Surprised by a guard, and after Wick attempted to handle the situation discretely, the fight crashes into the main area where Wick is suddenly exposed. Guns are now permitted in this area, and with it the sense of violent progression grows. At this point you’ll have noticed that the arrangement of scenes aren’t at all lazy, they’re constructed to manipulate and traverse the gradient of tension by testing the character in consecutive arenas – like the difficulty curve of a video-game, without the choice or separation. John Wick, as a film, manages to sell you its staging by pursuing flow and cohesion.

And then the mayhem kicks into action, the nightclub area, where a silencer’s shots whisper muffled noises under the thud of every beat. Iosef runs frantic through the crowd while Wick maintains composure through the music’s deafening trance. Strobe lighting and winding music creates an atmosphere of overwhelming intensity, we’re at the final push. These varying atmospheres serve to make the film feel bigger, more epic – there’s no rush to get through the scene and race to the payoff. By the end, Wick deserves his shot with Iosef, which sadly goes undelivered. You’re convinced to root on Wick’s side by witnessing the sheer power of will he inhabits. His persistence warrants his payoff.

After a brief tonal cleanse, the boss fight occurs and video game parallel goes full blast, it’s a common pattern throughout John Wick – although admittedly formulaic, it is earned, and while that isn’t a perfect justification, my defence is upheld by how it remains satisfying when every plot point builds to a logical conclusion and then proceeds to pay off magnificently. The compromise is deemed understandable – they have to hit particular scripted beats if they’re dedicated to perfecting the execution of that said beat. While unideal, we do not live in a perfect world.

Knowing itself, self referentially, puts John Wick several tiers above the recent wasteland of unmoulded lacklustre action. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s seamless approach to narrative mechanisms are to be admired considerably. I would highly recommend checking out John Wick, there’s more great chunks of powerhouse action where this came from.

Sherlock: The Lying Detective – Season Four: Episode Two – Review [Spoilers]

We get nothing dramatically insightful from The Lying Detective. Watson persists in tiresomely blaming Sherlock for Mary’s decision to save Sherlock’s life. What a bastard that Sherlock is, how dare he have zero control over the instinctive decisions made by someone else. And sure, you might argue in defence of this abysmally forced conflict but if you consider the significant impact of including this problem, you’ll begin to realise that nothing substantial changes; the show’s structure is untouched, other than Watson’s infrequent bickerings at Sherlock (in that typical BBC, primary school playground levels of unadulterated meanypants dialogue).

In all credit to Moffat, he wrangles a fair amount of time out of delaying the investigation (you know, that thing we’re watching Sherlock for; y’know, the entertainment thing) as Mrs Hudson: a painstakingly, downright flat, uninteresting, novelty-worn, sickly sweet, over indulgent remnant of Sherlockian times missed and forgotten, laboriously convinces Watson to kick-start the plot and, at long last, do something. Had this episode opened with a picture of Watson’s therapist, with some text placed underneath that identified her character, nothing would be lost. Further still, we know they’re going to be friends come the final credits; after all, it’s what we came to see – we all know Moffat by now, he’s a sure thing to pander to the audience in the easiest way possible: example, the non-committal resurrection of a hallucinatory Mary. It’s a problematic decision; they want the audience to engage with the tragedy yet deliver no hard repercussions for killing her off – commit god damn it!

Then again, compared to the weak plot devices, Sherlock and Watson’s mindless beefing is considerably more destructive to the show’s main appeal; they’re detrimental to our enjoyment, to the fun of Sherlock (the shows balanced and saving grace, and its greatest appeal). Who enjoys watching two moping middle aged men reluctantly bearing each other – after the massive espionage plot, with the sidenotes of unrelenting fatherhood issues and an SMS cheating scandal, and they’re currently dealing with a hunt for a serial killer/Tv personality in addition to Sherlock battling his drug induced state which grants him this silly, god-like (better yet, deus ex machina) omniscience; does any of this seem to balance? Does it make sense to throw in a ruptured disconnect between the two characters at this instance? Together they excite the game-afoot; why else would we watch half baked dramas? We need the hunt; we need Watson, Sherlock, excitement and chemistry.

And another small point, since we already know that Moffat and Gatiss are provenly non committal to permanent consequences, aka Mary, we can place a pretty safe bet that Watson is also likely safe to stay: pre-emptively denying any false tension given from such a “frayed” dynamic. This is the age old case of ‘writers whom have exposed their hand, with no cards left to deal’.

What would a bare bones, last resort, generic playground drama be without a quintessential therapist trope; a therapist in the traditional screenwriting sense being: they who acquire the main character’s emotional baggage to immediately betray this easily given trust and scooby-doo themselves as “the real villain all along!”, to abuse and gratuitously manipulate the character in an impossibly specific situation. (Although I’m kinda trashing episode 3, I actually rather enjoyed the Arkham Asylum-esque framework the writers kinda-maniacally played on).

Moffat’s problem has always been exposition. He sucks at giving audiences information in a natural way; it’s always jarring, uncharismatic and typically quite shallow. Given the nature of season 4, the sporadic random plot points it’s continually chasing and how their main objective is to set up bigger, larger plots, regardless of logic (e.g. The Six Thatchers broken bust guiding Sherlock to a decade old conspiracy plot which happens to be directly related to Mary, Watson’s wife.), to suddenly include a new therapist in the cast would be like any episode of Coronation Street spontaneously adding a stranger to the roster and “wouldn’t you know it, it’s Vera Duckworth’s evil twin dead half brother!, or whatever.” When you’re playing by the rules of a daytime soap opera, you’re not really pulling wool over anyone’s eyes when you’re using the exact same set ups.

The Lying Detective is better described as daytime tv sci-fi fantasy melodrama. And don’t mistake my disappointment of this hybrid genre as a reflection on the genre as a whole, rather I’m troubled by Moffat’s ability to adapt the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and turn them into something so antithetical to his original tales (transforming them into sub-par gimmicky trope fests).

Ignoring the silly sci-fi fantasy, let’s examine at Culverton Smith. Now this is a delightful personality that I joyously revelled in. Sickly devilish, I cherished how the idea of fame and national worship managed to paint us, the audience, as resembling some kind of sect or cult; we might idolise and defend a murder who mimics his own murderous idols: a perpetual cult of murder and worship. To call a spade a spade, he’s a symbol for Jimmy Saville, and perhaps some may consider this representation to be rather on the nose, but I disagree. I consider Moffat’s portrayal of Culverton as being post-yewtree. We’re not looking at a man who may or may not be the criminal, rather we see this Saville figure from Sherlock’s perspective, therefore, Moffat suggests that we should begin to wonder how anyone could get into his position of power and how he could accomplish these crimes without ever coming under suspicion. My problem with achieving this is that it comes at a compromise. Without the Columbo narrative structure our firm opinion of Culverton would waver under suspicion of Sherlock’s mental deterioration. Meaning: the narrative absolutely needed this particular structure; even at the cost of Sherlock’s defining characteristic: logical deductions to unexpected conclusions – the excitement of the revelation (the act of scooby-dooing). Therefore Moffat decides, as a supplement for this compromise, that Sherlock should instead be a Nostradamus type figure who predicts situation outcomes by deducing them beforehand, through probability… so… yeah, what a load of shit.

However, this is all secondary to mentioning the show’s biggest bombshell: Eurus, Sherlock’s super secret never-hinted-before sister; aka the therapist; aka the flirty girl (that Watson just so happened to fancy); aka fake Faith Culverton – Eurus’ worst performance, and by far the most performative, like a last resort character she just threw in last minute. But sure enough, I was duped, and at the end of the day they accomplished their mission. Hand on heart, I didn’t recognise any similarities between the three performances, and that’s a pretty great accomplishment for the show.

Eurus is only in the episode for perhaps one real scene and so discussing her now would diminish further discussions of her character for the next episode, however, my main point with Eurus isn’t that she demonstrates absolutely no sympathy for a depressed, drug abusing Sherlock – none whatsoever; given the ending of episode three, where we discover her true motivation, I find this a little difficult to digest (but more on that next episode). Rather my biggest gripe with her character is that she pushes Sherlock into the world of Culverton Smith; making her the real case solver, Sherlock’s merely pushed in the right direction. So when you consider how this coincides with Mary’s request that Sherlock throw himself in harm’s way as a means to twist John’s arm into rescue him, I have to wonder: was this part of Eurus’ plan? It would seem that Gatiss and Moffat never considered this aspect since there’s no mention or attempt to address this situation. If Euris is a genius, “incandescent” mastermind then she clearly she isn’t that clever because she seemingly didn’t know about this (then again, she may not care, and she might’ve been none the wiser; once again, it remains unaddressed). Yet this doesn’t really account for how conveniently it does fit into Mary’s request (and how easily it coincides with Eurus’ game of emotional manipulation); so it was intentional? This seems like a writer’s paradox; where the end fits the story, but only through the convenience of two separate narratives. Eurus may or may not have known about Mary’s request, it may or may not have been a coincidence, Eurus may have goaded Sherlock into Culverton’s death trap and she may have simply wanted him and Watson to solve the case, no strings attached; and yet for all these questions, which I’m sure there will be plenty more with deeper inspection, none are answered and none are technically raised, they’re disappointingly left unconsidered.

Perhaps that’s the keyword for reviewing season 4: unconsidered.