John Wick: locked and loaded

It started with a script,” producer, Basil Iwanyk, tells FilmInk. “That’s a process that you don’t see as much as you used to.” In this era of comic book adaptations, remakes, sequels, and TV series revamps, action flicks based upon original scripts are a rarity. But that’s exactly what John Wick is, coming directly from the mind and keyboard of Derek Kolstad, who previously penned the low budget 2012 actioners, One In The Chamber  and  The Package , both of which starred grunt and thump figurehead, Dolph Lundgren. “We bought Derek’s spec script a year ago,” explains Iwanyk. “Keanu Reeves was the first person that we gave it to. We hadn't seen him in a movie like this for a while, even though he’s been in three iconic action movies Speed, The Matrix, and Point Break. So he wasn't overexposed. It all came together really fast. The script that was shot isn’t that much different than the script that we bought, and it’s been the same writer all the way through. That’s very rare. It was a fresh script. Derek wrote it in about two weeks and sent it out. We read it, and said that we were interested. It was like, ‘What’s the catch? It seems too easy!’ It feels like it’s based on a graphic novel, but it’s purely original.”

Derek Kolstad’s script follows Keanu Reeves’ eponymous hit man, who comes out of a long period of isolation when he finds himself the target of a former friend. Despite the slick, modernist sheen applied to the film by debut directorial duo, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski who have a long history behind the scenes as stunt coordinators  Kolstad’s initial inspiration points were decidedly more vintage in tone. “When I grew up, we didn’t have cable, so I’d sneak downstairs late at night
and watch old noir pictures from the forties and fifties,” he tells FilmInk. “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was also a huge influence. I grew up reading all the Alistair MacLean books. I loved Donald Westlake, and a lot of pulp fiction. I wanted to take that and modernise it. John Wick is a revenge thriller, but it’s a little bit different. The core concept of this is: What if the devil found salvation? Does he change? And what happens when that house of cards collapses? Does he stay sane, or does he lose his mind?”

Producer, Basil Iwanyk, found a slightly more contemporary influence. “One of our big touchstones was Luc Besson’s The Professional,” he says. “There was a lone shred of decency in Jean Reno’s contract killer. We never thought of Keanu as being the hero as much as he’s the protagonist. We actually had a draft of the script where we lost our nerve, and we made him more generic.

The character was like, ‘I just don’t want to be involved.’ Then he’s pushed so far that he has to be involved. It felt like an old Steven Seagal movie. We’re trying to make something different John Wick is a dark character. He’s complex, and in some ways, he's nastier than all of the people that he’s fighting. That makes him interesting. I think that audiences will admire his ruthlessness. There’s no question that this is a darker spin on the action hero than we’ve seen.”

That doesn't mean that there’s no room for fun. “We have tons of cars and guns,” Basil Iwanyk says with a disturbing flourish. “It’s a boy paradise. We call it gun porn and car porn, because there are nice cars and reloading guns…shotguns, pistols, bullets! It feels like a twelve-year-old boy made this movie.” Here’s hoping that this metaphorical twelve-year-old boy also has style and taste…

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