The Guest (****) While we’re on Adam Wingard…

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The Guest – 2014

Director Adam Wingard
Screenplay Simon Barrett
Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick

Dan Stevens is everything one would hope an intensely “touched” veteran could be in yet another solid collaboration between Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. The film is a solid thriller that devolves into a high minded gore in the last act while managing not to lose any of the intensity Stevens carves out in the first two.

The strength of the film is in the script and Wingard exploring the range of his lead antagonist. Stevens enters the story as David Collins, a soldier in Caleb Peterson’s platoon who comes to visit Peterson’s family sometime after their son died in service. He says some of the right things and does enough other things to work his way into the family of four that includes Laura (Kelley, Spencer (Orser) and their two remaining kids Anna and Luke (Monroe and Meyer).

The fact that he doesn’t win everyone over in one, or even two fell swoops bodes well for the talent. Anna takes her time, but even after she is won over a bit, she is not so smitten that she just falls in line. As a result, we get to see Stevens constantly at work, attempting to improve his footing on the shifting sand. Even better, the Petersons get to experience their own problem with the constantly moving landscape.

It’s a winning choice that we never get a clear backstory for Stevens. To go much further than they do would risk going into Bourne territory. Instead we get a man who seems unhinged but moves with cold precision simultaneously.

One can understand how a film like this might slide under the radar. The title doesn’t tell you much and I personally got it confused with The Gift at times. Give it a chance, though. You won’t be disappointed.

(**** out of *****)

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John Wick 2 (****1/2): You’re always that guy…

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John Wick Chapter 2 – 2017

Director Chad Stahelski
Screenplay Derek Kolstad
Starring Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini

If it takes away your peace, it’s too expensive. That’s what some wise people say. Even wiser it is to take those taking away your peace with a head-shot or 70. This time they missed the dog with the grenade. But they took out pretty much the whole rest of the house.  And all those pictures of him and his not as recently deceased wife.  And he’d just buried his guns under concrete again…

The most powerful thing about John Wick the character is that he is actually quite convincing as a world-weary and just plain beaten down warrior. Sure, he’s always being brought back for “one more job” but he’s going to be shot, beaten and stabbed along the way, sometimes in the middle of a concert.  And he doesn’t miss. My word does he make sure he hits the target over and over. He is hit enough himself, but bullets that hit his vest just add to the extreme agony. They don’t take away his fire to survive, but they can very much affect his fighting style.

The job brings him to Rome this time, where he has to kill literally dozens of people just to take down one target. Then he gets into a prolonged fight or two. Reeves has been at this game a long time. Seeing him hit by cars, thrown down stars and through windows is remarkable. His dedication to realism is astounding. He is not a young man, but he doesn’t fight like an old one. Just one worn down by experience. He deserves an Oscar nomination for the most believable action star in the last decade…or two.

Meanwhile the bodies pile up. And up. And up.  It’s the highest one man death count I have seen outside of A Better Tomorrow II. The director Stahelski has a remarkable dedication to the art of action. He is growing by leaps and bounds as the trajectory between this film and the last will attest. The confidence is shows in one beautiful set up after another. Every scene is meticulously choreographed, advancing the very basic story as if it were way more complex than it really is. Take away this expertise and this is any of the Liam Neeson films of his recent heyday. Not exactly a put down, to be sure, but you know what I mean.

The last act of the film has an incredible premise that starts with 7 bullets and is as much a puzzling quest for more as it is a hunt for “vengeance.” The ferocity of the jujitsu employed is an agonized symmetry in which everyone’s body weight is carefully applied to make each fight believable.

What is this world of ancient coins and hit men and women waiting on every corner? It the same bullshit we’ve seen for years. There is no secret to this secret society. The key to the whole thing is feeling like Reeves himself believes. And you can see each scratch, cut and gut shot. That says nothing about what you see when you look in his tired, but still resolved eyes. It’s a younger version of what one sees when they look in the eyes of McShane.

(****1/2 out of *****)