I have this saying that I think is relevant to both Keanu Reeves and John Wick, and especially relevant in THIS thirty seconds of John Wick the movie.
“A masculine guy knows he is a man; a macho guy is terrified he’s NOT.”
(And let me be clear I don’t feel a man is defined by assigned gender at birth, sexuality, identity, physicality or income. I’m speaking of the abstract concept of “man” here. In my personal parlance, Steve Rogers, Captain America, is masculine; that guy in the bar in the Tap Out shirt hooting at the UFC is macho.)
John’s just been spotted on camera in the bathhouse. He’s kneeling on the back of one of the guards and he’s drawn his gun for the first time. Iosef, hearing the disturbance, inches up the steps of the hot tub/pool. Wet, mostly naked and alone, he looks very young and he’s beginning to look very scared.
That’s in stark contrast to his earlier blustering “I’m not afraid of the boogeyman!” from mere minutes ago.
He sees John Wick, kneeling on that poor guard whom one presumes is trying to make peace with his personal gods in preparation for his imminent death.
John shoots another guard, Iosef retrieves a stashed pistol and John turns his gun on him.
What follows next is a weirdly intimate moment, a wordless connection between the two men that speaks very much to both their characters.
Even armed, Iosef looks like a scared rabbit, pinned by the weight of grief and rage in John’s eyes. (This is a great collaborative bit of acting from Alfie Allen and Keanu Reeves). It’s the epitome of masculine vs macho too, as the braggart Iosef cannot act when required even to save his own life. All talk, covering his fear.
As they lock gazes Iosef stumbles backwards, finally recognizing the monster of death and destruction his arrogance and cruelty has unleashed. (Which, coincidentally loops us back to the fact that John Wick is actually a horror movie from every perspective but the audience’s).
Still locking eyes with his ARMED tormentor, John contemptuously drops his muzzle to shoot the man he’s kneeling on in the head. This is, as a character beat, perfect, un-improvable.
It’s the dick-wave of all dick-waves. THE power move, THE message sent.
“I think so little of you, boy, I will pause to do this thing I could do later, just because it’s the professional thing. You, my goal, my target, my obsession? You are still utterly beneath me.”
It’s also arrogant and in narrative terms, even John Wick pays for his arrogance. Because as he rises to kill Iosef (who is actually a fair bit further away than the last shot implies) a speedo-clad mountain of a man gets between them, rising up without warning from a pool in front of John. One can picture him lying there like a crocodile, just his eyes and nose above the water, waiting for his moment.
John’s magic knife is back (cause I swear that thing is NOT in his hand before now) and he plunges it into the shoulder of the huge guy, which barely seems to phase him. Iosef is scurrying away, little cockroach that he is.
Frustrated, John releases some of his usual finesse in favor of simplistic brutality. An instep stomp with hard soled shoes onto a bare foot makes the huge man release his arms. (The instep is a much missed and deeply effective target on the human body; people have literally had heart attacks and died from the pain of a transfixed instep.)
John then just unloads on this guy, three shots to the chest and his standard coup de grace to the head, sending him plunging back into the pool. He turns to shoot Iosef, who’s grabbed a woman as a human shield.
And John, because although he’s a remorseless machine of death he’s also the “hero” here pulls back his shot. He also seems to notice he’s out of ammo cause he holsters that pistol and pulls another.
Bathed again in that cool blue, almost ethereal light, John advances towards his fleeing prey.
Next up, Chapter 9: Plot Armor