The Russian Nightclub is the iconic fight of the Wick movies. Not my favourite—that belongs to my lethal lady Perkins—but there isn’t really any way to describe how instant the impact of this section of the movie was.
It’s a seamless integration of gun, knife and hand combat, shot in a kinetic, grounded way. It literally changed, in a breath, how action movies are shot, how fights are choreographed. So that’s twice now Keanu Reeves has been the center of a sea change in the action genre and in the end it’s going to be debatable whether the Matrix or the Wick movies will have a bigger permanent effect.
One thing I forgot to mention in the last entry was the seeming oddity of Wick staring with practically pornographic intent into the eyes of a man he’s just knifed through the palate. It’s another shot that’s weirdly ambiguous (Is it supposed to show what a robot Wick can be about killing? Did someone just think it would be “cool”?) but it always read to me that Wick was watching for the involuntary reactions that prove death. He can’t move his hand from over his mouth or let the guy fall until he knows he’s dead.
The lighting in the bathhouse, where we are at 50:00, is saturated neon red and blue, with some purple accents, bathing Keanu’s face in a cold, icy sheen. At 50:09 we see the first evidence that this assault is ‘winging it’ as Wick is surprised by a guard coming through an unregarded door behind him. He goes for his gun, Wick stops the draw and attacks with his reversed knife.
Suddenly both men are in the red light as they struggle for dominance over the blade, they separate and Wick manages to knock the gun out of his hand. The guard picks Wick up in a low double leg tackle, artless and brutal, slamming them both into the towel shelving unit behind Wick. It’s not immediately clear where the damn knife went, and Wick has it (or another one just like it) in a few moments.
Out in the open, Wick’s now been seen on cameras and a world of hurt in the form of heavily armed Russian men are about to converge on his location.
Then we get one of the nicest hand to hand exchanges in the whole movie, shot with very little editing. Two, three blocked punches and Wick does a sweetly pretty rolling take down, a hip throw/tackle than puts his opponent on the ground on his back and rolls Wick back up to his feet. It’s fluid, smooth and calm.
Wick doesn’t waste his height advantage, getting behind the guard, sticking a knee in his back to hold him down, drawing his own gun.
And now it’s 50:30.
In the pool Iosef has just noticed something is wrong.
He’s about to face John Wick for the first time since murdering his dog.
He’s not going to handle it well.