When you’ve finished Netflix it becomes necessary to adjust the viewing criteria. I generally resist seeing films more than once but, with a few exceptions, will do so if cornered. A more enterprising move would be to seek out films that you don’t think you’ll like. An example would be the John Wick movies, with Keanu Reeves taking the titular role. Wick is some kind of agent or something and people are always after him so he shoots them. I liked the first John Wick but should have waited a few months longer before trying the second one, which I abandoned because it was just the same as the first one. Such fastidiousness is easily overridden in lockdown and John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum becomes singularly unpromising within the first ten minutes. So resolutely unpromising that you say to yourself things like ‘You’re kidding me. We don’t even know who he works for or what his mission is or who wants to kill him or why they do yet within minutes everyone is running and shooting the fuck out of everybody or to be precise they come at him with guns and kicks and he wastes every single one of them using skills with no backstory not the tiniest of pretexts.’ The skills consist of being good at kicks and ducking like his attackers are but he does have one thing over them which is his very special way of offing them. As with the movies of John Woo, the gun is not reserved for the remote resolution of irritating interpersonal conflicts but becomes a handheld propellant assisting flights through the air.
A lot of thriller/cop/gangster films make the mistake of showing you the broken marriages, clandestine affairs, wayward children, destabilising addictions, betrayals, debts and dreams of the principals, as though this were going to somehow disguise the fact that certain other quite basic things simply have to happen or else it wouldn’t be a genre but if they put in emotional difficulty and what are imagined to be complex travails then we won’t notice they are just put in but nine times out of ten these add-ons are so lame and bolted-on we just want the car chase and fuck everything else. Which only makes it worse but in John Wick they don’t make the slightest effort to pretend on your behalf that you are into higher things: he never had wives or children or a dying dog (maybe he did but who cares?) but he does this strange and entrancing thing with guns where despite his martial arts skills with kicks, chops and jumps, he will suddenly close with an adversary, apparently for fisticuffs, but still holding a gun and instead of punching him will hold the gun two inches from the person’s head and blow the head off. It’s kind of cheating but it’s terribly efficient. Reeves is fluidly adept and will be halfway through one of those flying kicks where you do a 360 with your leg raised when he will twist round in the air even as an assailant comes at him from behind and stick the gun in his face as previously described and blam no face.
This is daring stuff. It’s pure. They realise we don’t really pay attention to all the human context stuff and are quite content to watch characters with only, say, two characteristics act out the delirium of undomesticated impulses after which you don’t have to go to prison. John Wick 3 is a film poem – not that you would wish to share this insight with people like John Wick. It’s pure. It has absorbed the idea that often the ‘good bits’ are profoundly satisfying and doubtless help people not to act out bad things in an antisocial way etc etc and it has matched the immoderate urgency of the suppressed impulses with the suspension of the patronising polystyrene packing peanuts that serve to muffle and tease – as if unmuffled and unteased we will not appreciate the facetless force of the uncut, unshaped plasma that bursts forth once push having come to shove is loosed.
If Spiral, for example, is a faultless example of the proper integration of coplife and the extracurricular to the extent that you care, then the Danish procedural The Investigation can be seen as having some of the purity of John Wick 3 but with the psychopathy firmly located in a single character who is never named and whom you never see. The show features exceptionally skilled naturalistic acting from a cast whose members resolutely, almost sacrificially, eschew the pauses, tics and poses of good actors to the extent that were you to turn the sound down on some of the scenes you would conclude that you had chanced upon a well-lit passage from a CCTV installed in a rest room in which three or four people in pullovers sat dispiritedly and without charisma around a table doing very little indeed. This is because, with the sound turned back up, you would recall that the murder investigation is going exceptionally badly and none of the cops has any idea what to do next. There are no leads. It’s probable that a dismembered body has been scattered over a large area of deep water and the only way to determine cause of death is to send divers down to comb the vast acreage of the seabed hoping to find a head or leg or any part, really. Other scenes having a comparable lack of forward impulsion feature police divers repeatedly surfacing from their explorations and signalling to the escort boats that they have found precisely nothing. Over and over and over again. Or scenes in which various cops and experts discuss wind speeds, currents, depths and the fact that some things (arms, torsoes) will drift along the seabed and others (mobile phones) will sink into the sand. No drama. Nobody fancies anybody else. The worst thing in the extra-curricular is the main cop getting a phone call drawing him away from the dinner table just as his daughter announces that she is happily pregnant and he goes into the garden to take the call for several minutes and she is understandably very upset.
Again: this is daring stuff. And entirely gripping. Police work is made neither attractive nor unattractive. It’s a job. Certain positive outcomes are achieved whereupon some of the detectives and cops smile briefly. And the guy gets to hold his granddaughter which pleases his daughter. It’s refreshing.