There is little reason to purchase Columbus Day other than the involvement of Iceman himself, Mr. Val Kilmer. I’ve long been a fan of the actor, not least for his fantastic turns in Tombstone, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Wonderland. Playing the central character John Cologne, this is clearly a project built around his considerable skills and it’s all the better for it. That’s not to say no other actor could have carried this role off – you could easily argue that it could have been offered to the likes of Mickey Rourke or even Antonio Banderas, both skilled at playing world-weary ragtag ruffians. Kilmer stands up with the best of them though and he excels here, which is a good job as the film itself is decidedly average.
The Columbus Day of the title refers to a holiday taken in some quarters of the States celebrating the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. It also happens to be the day this film takes place, although the day’s actual role in the film is so minimal that it barely matters. In fact the only reason for the holiday playing a part at all is to unite John with Antoine, a young boy wandering a park during his day off school. His relationship with his family and home life is clearly fractured and when he sees Kilmer’s gangster and an intriguing-looking briefcase, he quickly decides to hang onto his coattails for the rest of the day, at first to John’s annoyance but a bond soon forms between the pair.
What’s John doing in the park in the first place? He’s just pulled off the most audacious heist of his career, one last job, and is waiting in the park to complete the deal. So far so ordinary, right? It doesn’t take a seasoned DoG reader to know that this is one of the oldest plotlines in the book. Columbus Day’s ‘spin’ on the story is that over the course of the day, John gets the opportunity to close old wounds, resolve his damaged relationships with his wife and daughter and generally receive redemption. As spins go, of course, that too is pretty well worn and that is generally the problem with the film. It’s not that it’s a bad film, far from it. As straight-to-DVD efforts go, the acting is on the whole excellent, as is the photography.
The problem is that it’s not an especially good film either, largely because it brings nothing fresh to the table. The relationship between a young boy and a reprehensible adult, eventually leading to his salvation, presents itself as something interesting and different but we’ve all seen these themes in films and TV before. The film fails to hold your interest as a result, despite the brief 80 minutes runtime. The ending in particular is a disappointment as it’s so unbelievable. Without wanting to give anything away, redemption only comes about if those you’ve hurt absolve you of your sins and when you’ve been as naughty a boy as John has, it should take more than a few phone calls before your loved ones not only accept you for what you are but actively help you in your criminal schemings.
So, the problems aside, should you seek this film out? Absolutely. It’s undeniably a below-average film, hence the score below, but Kilmer’s central performance is at once subtle and powerful and lifts this above what would otherwise have been throwaway entertainment. I’m not for a minute suggesting that it doesn’t deserve its straight-to-DVD status – its lo-fi sensibilities would have betrayed a cinematic release. It certainly warrants more attention though, as does Kilmer. Twenty-three years on from Top Gun, I’d still be happy to have him as my wingman anytime.
Extras A single trailer.
Columbus Day is out now.