Presumably there's a reason why we're so fascinated by hitmen in popular culture—possibly something to do with their uncomplicated codes, and their brutal efficiency, and their roles as godlike arbiters in the eternal gamble of life versus death. There are two archetypes of hitmen, according to Telegraph film critic Anne Billson: the infallible, superheroic dispenser of doom (The Terminator, No Country for Old Men, Collateral), and the humanized, accessible, almost lovable killers (Pulp Fiction, Road to Perdition, The Professional).
John Wick, played with quiet, slow-burning grace by Keanu Reeves in what's being billed as a comeback for the 50-year-old actor, is both. At the beginning of the film he seems like any Wall Street banker or startup whiz who has cashed out early to enjoy life with his wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan, seen only in flashbacks and blurry iPhone clips). That’s until Helen dies of a serious but unspecified illness, leaving Wick all alone in his sleek, monochrome mansion as a living, breathing, sobbing manifestation of Sad Keanu.
In one of the most emotionally manipulative plot devices ever seen on film, the doorbell rings, and he takes delivery of a puppy, a canis ex machina, ordered by Helen before she died to give Wick something to love. The bond is instantaneous: The adorable dog and the handsome man eat cereal together, and snuggle up in bed, and drive around in a killer 1969 Mustang—sometimes breaking into what looks like an airport to do doughnuts and handbrake turns in front of gas tankers—and for a fleeting moment it seems like the movie might have the makings of an existential buddy comedy. Only a thug, Iosef (Alfie Allen), who's eyed Wick's car in a gas station, breaks into his house with a handful of friends late at night, beats up Wick, steals the car, and kills the puppy.