John Image


By Michael Talbot-Haynes | November 15, 2023

The widespread poverty that has people crawling the pavement showcases systemic desperation from which there is little chance of escape. Even such items that most of us take for granted, like fast food and air-conditioned transportation, are luxuries here that you literally have to kill to get. Even the gangland criminals barely get by in this ultra-noir environment.

The visual strategy is darkness in broad daylight. Asghar Ali Ghanchi’s fantastic cinematography captures all the bright colors and grimy edges of the streets and alleys where your life can shut off in a second. The compositions of the shots use the city’s architecture as an emotional spiderweb trapping the characters, such as the cemetery framed behind John and Maria strolling together. There is also a marvelous scene where they argue, where both are caught in shadow against the bright light slums through the doorway. It is always fascinating to see how the expressionistic shadow traditions of noir get carried over to places with no Venetian blinds.

“…captures all the bright colors and grimy edges of the streets and alleys …”

Ali made the wise choice to go the dramatic route instead of diluting the story John with action genre gloss over. To get the maximum emotional impact, he got some dynamite actors for his leads. Samo is that rare comic relief that is funny but still is a fully fleshed character. His moments are some of the most lively moments of buoyed light before another plunge into darkness. Khan is perfect as the moral center of the movie. She makes you feel so much for Maria and understands her fears. Wajahat is as amazing as John, as he can give this dead-eye stare of utter hopelessness as he gazes into the abyss. He makes us root for John even as he sinks further into the murk of gang life. Mairaj is an absolute wonder.

This may be the first time I truly believed I was looking at a hired killer in a movie, as everyone else just plays at it. Mairaj makes you taste the blood he has been forced to spill, turning Daud into a real person with a history instead of a wind-up trigger-pulling machine. It is Daud’s bloody path that seems the darkest, as his humanity has been the most brutalized due to his profession. Mairaj will take the audience straight to hell with him with a glance. John lifts street murder up to the level of high art. It takes all hope and paints in black in the most beautiful way.

John (2023)

Directed and Written: Babar Ali

Starring: Saleem Mairaj, Aashir Wajahat, Romaisa Khan, Raza Samo, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

John Image

"…lifts street murder up to the level of high art."

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