Rob’s Car Movie Review: John Wick (2014)

For close to six years now, Rob’s Car Movie Review has taken a look at some of the best and worst of the car movie genre. From iconic classics like Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop, to modern stinkers such as Getaway and Drive Hard, I’ve attempted to not only elucidate the cinematic qualities of dozens upon dozens of films, but have endeavored to examine the four-wheeled stars that have inhabited their celluloid milieus.

Most of the movies I’ve covered have their subject focused squarely on some subset of car culture, such as street racing, auto theft, or stunt driving. But every once in a while, I’ve decided to take on a car movie that isn’t really a car movie at all. That is to say, it’s a film about an entirely different subject that just happens to have some thoroughly amazing vehicles in it.

For this month’s edition of the column, I thought I’d dip my toe into those waters again and have a look at one of my favorite action/revenge films of the last ten years. The movie? 2014’s raucous rollercoaster ride about the world’s top assassin, John Wick. So fasten your seatbelts, hold on, and let’s roll!

The John Wick theatrical movie poster features a stunning image. (Image courtesy of Lionsgate.)

John Wick was produced by Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures in association with 87Eleven, MJW Films, and DefyNite Films on a modest budget of $20 million. Distributed theatrically in the United States by Lionsgate, it went on to gross roughly $86 million worldwide, enough to spawn a franchise that to date has consisted of two sequels and a spinoff TV series, with another theatrical film slated for a 2023 release.

The movie was directed by first-time helmer and acclaimed stuntman, Chad Stahelski, based on a screenplay by the relatively unknown Derek Kolstad.

Keanu Reeves stars in the title role. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

Keanu Reeves stars in the eponymous role, accompanied by a supporting cast that includes Willem Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Bridget Moynahan.

The story follows the exploits of John Wick, once the world’s most deadly assassin – a man who could kill just as easily with his bare hands as with an assault rifle. Having met the one true love of his life, Helen (Moynahan), Wick decided to hang up his shoulder holster and settle down to a normal life of domesticity.

Sadly, after just five years, his wife passed on due to a terminal illness, leaving Wick devastated. Her last gift to him was a young beagle puppy, who she hoped would help assuage his grief.

Iosef Tarasov, played by Alfie Allen, is the son of a Russian mobster who gets on John Wick’s bad side. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

Shortly after his wife’s death, Wick has a chance encounter with Iosef Tarasov (Allen), the son of a Russian mobster. In a heated exchange, Wick rebuffs the gangster’s offer to buy his much-loved muscle car. In retribution, Tarasov and his crew break into Wick’s home the next night while he is sleeping. They savagely beat Wick, kill his beloved puppy, and steal his car.

Finding out who the perpetrators were from his friend Aurelio (Leguizamo), Wick comes out of retirement to seek revenge upon anyone connected to the attack and theft. Aided by fellow assassin and comrade, Marcus (Dafoe), Wick hunts down each perpetrator, eventually putting him on a collision course with Tarasov’s kingpin father, Viggo (Nyqvist).

Fellow assassin, Marcus, played by the always excellent Willem Dafoe, helps Wick seek revenge. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

John Wick is, quite frankly, a superlative, fun film. The movie’s writing, direction, and performances are all top-notch. It is the quintessential example of a low-budget picture in which the filmmakers made sure all the money they had to work with showed up on screen.

Jonathan Sela’s excellent cinematography is chock full of evocative lighting and ricochet-fast camera moves. The film editing, by Elisabet Ronalds, is finely tuned and keeps the film moving at a rapid clip. The wardrobe, sets, and locations are all sleek and contemporary.

Even the choice of weapons in the film is cutting-edge high tech. And the combat choreography? Well, it rivals that of The Matrix in its speed and intensity.

In short, all of the aesthetic choices made by the filmmakers are spot on, and that extends to the vehicular eye candy we get to ogle as well.

Tarasov makes an offer that he thinks can’t be refused on John Wick’s car. He turns out to be very, very wrong. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

The premier car in the film is John Wick’s ride, the one that caught Tarasov’s eye and set the events of the film in motion. It’s described in dialogue as being an exceedingly rare 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429, a car which only 859 examples of were produced.

The car looks positively resplendent despite being painted in a non-original metallic charcoal color with dual, matte black rally stripes on the hood, roof, and deck of the car. The interior features beautifully aged black appointments.

To the keen enthusiast’s eye though, something is immediately amiss. For starters, the car is outfitted with the non-functional hood scoop standard on the ‘69 and ‘70 Mach 1 as opposed to the more prominent, functional one featured on the Boss 429.

In reality, Wick’s Boss 429 is not what it seems. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

What’s more, the hood is not blacked out like those cars would have featured. Further muddying the waters is the fact that John Wick’s steed has a rear spoiler that was not an available option for the 1969 or 1970 Boss 429.

The interior of the car also has a pair of glaring anomalies in the form of an automatic transmission shifter (all Boss 429’s were equipped with 4-speed manuals) and a steering wheel from, of all things, a 1968 Shelby GT350 or 500.

All of this leads to the obvious conclusion that the car was not a real Boss 429.

There were good reasons why the production didn’t use real Boss 429s. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

In fact, the production used five 1969 Mach 1s instead, for the reason that it was a much easier car to procure, with 72,458 examples having left the factory. I’m sure the fact that the stunt crew would not be ravaging cars that routinely sell for in excess of a half-million dollars at auction also figured into the decision.

Although the Mustang features only briefly in the first act, we nonetheless get quite a few good looks at it, including an amazing scene where Wick burns rubber and drifts the beast on an airport runway to vent his frustration and pain at losing his wife.

Wick also rolls in a gorgeous, Forest Green 1970 Chevelle SS 396. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

Another classic that Wick gets to drive is an iconic 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 396 loaned to him by Aurelio after his Mustang is stolen.

Although at first glance appearing to be black with white over-the-top stripes, on closer examination, the car is actually found to be Forest Green with a black vinyl interior. The car features aftermarket Cragar-style wheels, and appears to be equipped with a Turbo 350 3-speed automatic transmission as evidenced by the shifter.

The Chevelle is never run too hard in the film, but is found in several scenes. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

The Chevelle is seen in quite a few aerial establishing shots, including one memorable scene where Wick crosses a bridge into Manhattan to begin his rampage, but unfortunately, it is never driven too hard in the movie. Three different Chevelles were apparently used for the film, including one for beauty shots, one driver, and one stunt car.

The Cragar-type wheels look great on the Chevelle. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

The final prominently-featured car in the film is a murdered-out 2011 Dodge Charger 5.7-liter Hemi that is given to Wick. The car is driven the hardest out of everything in the movie, and is sadly destroyed in the film’s climactic scene.

An all-black 2011 Dodge Charger is unfortunately destroyed at the end of the film. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

The scene in Aurelio’s garage also has quite an assemblage of rides in it, including a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, a 2006 Ford GT40 Heritage Edition in Gulf Racing colors, and a 1963 MG B Roadster. I for one, would have loved to see Wick take that ’68 for a spin a la the bad guys in Bullitt.

The scene in Aurelio’s garage is chock full of serious cars. (Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)

Having not seen John Wick since it came out, I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed it the first time. Its combination of a simple revenge story, amazing aesthetics, incredible firefights, and hand-to-hand combat sequences, and, of course, a bevy of awesome cars makes it a real winner in my book. I give John Wick seven-and-a-half out of ten pistons and urge you to see or revisit it.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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