Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Robert De Niro, John Travolta, Milo Ventimiglia, Elizabeth Olin
RunTime: 1 hr 30 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films & InnoForm Media
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/killingseasonmovie
Opening Day: 15 August 2013
Synopsis: Sharing the screen for the first time in motion picture history, Academy Award® winner Robert De Niro and two-time Oscar® nominee John Travolta star in KILLING SEASON. Deep in the Appalachian mountains, a reclusive American military veteran (Robert De Niro) and a European tourist (John Travolta) strike up an unlikely friendship. But when the tourist's true intentions come to light, what follows is a tense battle across some of America’s most forbidding landscape proving the old adage: the purest form of war is one-on-one.
‘Killing Season’ marks the first time that Robert De Niro and John Travolta are sharing the screen, and especially for those born in the baby-boomer generation for whom either actor are icons, that matchup might be reason alone to catch this thriller. Yet it is precisely because of such anticipation that we urge you to stay far away from this one, for not only is the film one of the biggest missed opportunities, it is also a reprehensibly bad film in itself, and nothing but an utter embarrassment to both of the veterans’ acting careers.
Essentially a mano-a-mano setup in the Appalachian mountains, De Niro plays a United States military veteran who is paid an unexpected visit by Travolta’s bitter Serbian soldier eighteen years after the end of the Bosnian war. The latter was shot in the back and left for dead by the former back then, and has waited this long to track down his executioner to settle the grudge. As we find out later, Travolta isn’t simply out to kill De Niro; rather, he’s found God in the years since, and wants his slaughterer to make a true and honest confession.
Yes, God is referenced from time to time throughout their cat-and-mouse game, and then invoked repeatedly with the weight of a sledgehammer in the anti-climactic ending which unfolds too conveniently in an abandoned church right smack in the middle of the forest. There’s no such thing as subtlety here - not even with its arthouse pretensions - and indeed, it’s plainly obvious that the religious references are no more than a cheap narrative device to drag out a thinly plotted script.
What’s more maddening is how it is used to justify the gory interludes in between the hunt - and we might as well warn you that it does get pretty graphic. When Travolta first catches up with De Niro after shooting an arrow through his right calf, he forces the latter to thead a steel rod through and then proceeds to string him upside down. And then as payback, De Niro shoots an arrow that pierces through both of Travolta’s cheeks and pins him to a cabin door - not to mention waterboarding him after with heavily salted lemonade.
The torture is gratuitous to say the least, and thoroughly vexing when executed in the name of guilt, redemption and other philosophising about God. It would have been much more gratifying if writer Evan Daugherty had simply settled for a straightforward action movie between two equally matched foes pitted against each other by circumstance - and yet even on that count, there is little remotely intelligent about the chase that ensues, which ultimately descends into a catch-and-release repetition that is just tedious.
One can see that boredom written on De Niro’s face, who looks miserable and tired most of the time; especially in recent years, the respectable actor has taken on a number of questionable projects that seem only in the service of a paycheck, and this is unequivocally one of those. Well, at least Travolta seems to get a kick out of an over-the-top performance complete with a shaved head and a bizarre Eastern European accent - but though it’s a darker role than his usual, he’s played bad much better before in Tony Scott’s ‘Taking of Pelham 123’.
It remains a mystery therefore why two actors of such calibre would sign on for such a dreadful movie, so lacking in any suspense or excitement no thanks in part too by Mark Steven Johnson’s workmanlike direction. What it does manage to hit on the mark are the reputations of De Niro and Travolta, more so given how heavily the movie is marketed on their marquee names. And so consider this a well-intentioned advice for both of their fans - stay away from this stinker, or risk having your love for either one killed by this terrible misfire.
(Less an iconic matchup of two acting veterans than a potential career-killing misfire, you’d be advised to stay away from this suspense-free action thriller that trades in pretentious philosophising and torture porn)
Review by Gabriel Chong