John Wick first hit theaters mere months ago, but already it is approaching cult status. In fact that cult status is probably one of the only reasons I'm sitting down to write about it now. Assuming we keep this corner of the Internet for ourselves for many years to come, our home would feel a little less whole without some recognition for John Wick.
That's a long way of saying that the burgeoning positive reputation this action film has begun to enjoy is well and truly deserved.
Keanu Reeves stars as the titular character, a retired mob hitman whose wife dies suddenly. Playing to Reeves' strengths, Wick is a silent brooder, aimless and depressed without the woman who rescued him from his old life of crime, but still bearing the emotional scars of those days even after a few years of relative peace.
He seems headed for an awfully bleak existence until a posthumous gift from his wife -- an adorable beagle puppy named Daisy -- arrives on his doorstep accompanied by a final note from her encouraging him to carry on.
Daisy has the intended effect, at least giving John a reason to get out of bed, until a couple of Russian-speaking thugs led by Alfie Allen (aka Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones) show up to rob his 1969 Mustang, and in the process viciously kill Daisy with a baseball bat.
He is also just a kid, pale, baby-faced and perpetually sporting a five-o-clock shadow, perhaps because he can’t grow facial hair beyond that. He has a girlfriend he left behind in Hawaii. He has family and friends and now former colleagues. Astonishingly, their well-being seems to be his biggest worry even as he throws his life away.
Finally, as the story unfolds, it becomes harder and harder to argue that Snowden, even if you think he is a criminal, is not at the very least a man of conviction. He is uncomfortable with being filmed at all at first. Much of the film’s tension comes from his eventual decision to reveal his identity, a decision he makes grudgingly. He does not want the story to be about him, and yet he concludes that coming forward will shield the loved ones he is most worried about from harm. Snowden leaked documents that exposed a massive government spying program out of a genuine belief that he was doing the right thing. You might disagree with him, but, after watching Citizenfour, I think you will be hard-pressed to contend that he was motivated by a bizarre and narcissistic quest for fame.
Snowden’s reluctance to enter the spotlight is a cruel twist of fate. He wants the focus to be on the NSA, and if you take his word over the people who have tried to discredit him, it unquestionably should be. But the measure of the man matters in this case. Snowden might not wish to be measured at all, but his actions make it a virtual necessity.
Sizing him up after seeing this documentary, I am more inclined than ever to see him as an American hero. The breadth of the NSA’s spying program — the volume of information it is collecting on American citizens (to say nothing of the people Americans share this world with) — is disturbing and very probably illegal, no matter how their actions are being passed off right now. Snowden himself gave up just about everything to bring all of that to light — to at least give it a chance to enter the public discourse.
That it might be drowned out by a government that is, at best, entirely complicit in the surveillance state or ignored by a jittery, frightened, disengaged populace still reeling after 9/11 is a shame. But it doesn’t have much to do with Snowden himself, a man who, thanks to Poitras’ claustrophobic, pulsing footage of the moment he became a household name, looks more than ever like a selfless patriot.