Killing Season, Review

It may be Killing Season for Robert De Niro and John Travolta, but with sharpshooters like these guys, the wildlife will flourish.

War is Hell. But sometimes war movies are too. The Killing Season is a familiar, if not unwelcome premise. Two old codgers who once met during a previous conflict from decades past are forced to reexamine themselves and the meaning of war by suffering through the human condition yet again. It is a fairly profound premise and works just as well now as it did in the days of Sergio Leone or Thomas Middleton for that matter. It is a lurid dance, but one (like conflict itself) that every generation embraces and later laments. Screenwriter Evan Daugherty and Director Mark Steven Johnson (yes, the same one of Daredevil and Ghost Rider) try to get right in the middle of that tango with a film about the pain that comes with the burden of war for survivors. Unfortunately, the film struggles to survive its thin 90-minute running time. The two circling the boards this go-round are retired Col. Benjamin Ford (Robert De Niro) and former Serbian Officer Emil Kovac (John Travolta). Accents aside—De Niro’s Georgian drawl being passable and Travolta’s Slavic merely avoiding embarrassment—both actors seem to enjoy when their characters go tete-a-tete about what life and a legacy of violence has meant for them. However, the intriguing premise is stretched to its feature length by all the absurd bloodletting and tomfoolery that commences in between. It’s been nearly 20 years since the Bosnian War ended and Benjamin Ford has felt every one of them. With shrapnel in his leg that he refuses to have removed (“some things just become a part of you”), he hobbles around his Appalachian cabin with the defeated cantor of age. He surrounds himself with the trappings of mountainmen, like his war hero father, but the truth is he is more into nature watching than hunting. In fact, he hasn’t killed anything since his brief incursion into…the war.  It’s become clear that Ford is a hermit. He will not even drive a few hours down the road to the baptism of his grandson, despite the pestering of estranged heir Chris (Milo Ventimiglia). However, he is forced out of his shell with brutal efficiency when a foreign hunter seeks shelter from the rain in his home. The friendly tourist, Emil, reveals himself to be a Bosnian and an affable spirit, even though he has Travolta’s penchant for broad grins when he is in villain mode. Yet, is Emil a bad guy? We know that he has sought Ford out on some sort of vendetta that stemmed from his entire squadron of men being slaughtered in 1995, but who killed them and why? Emil obviously blames Ford, but still spends a night listening to Johnny Cash, drinking Jagermeister and generally being as friendly as any smiling sociopath. Pretenses drop when Emil drags Ford hunting the next morning…and then proceeds to turn the elderly American into his prey. There is plenty of grimacing and as arrows are fired through legs and men are hung upside down, but like both of the would-be killers, it amounts to lot of chest thumping and empty bravado. Killing Season’s greatest strength becomes its greatest weakness (like the shrapnel in the leg that keeps slowing De Niro down): These Characters LOVE to talk. They love it so much that it appears they think it may kill the other. Early on, it makes for some amazingly tense scenes as Emil watches Ford hop around his home like a snake pitying a mouse. The mysterious history between these two men and what happened to them in Bosnia keeps the audience’s attention, even if both actors are only working at the required professional level. Seeing De Niro and Travolta share the screen is a pleasure to be enjoyed all the way until the knives come out.  Emil’s first attempt on Ford’s life is a tense moment of pure dread as Ford is literally hung upside down by the metal rod sticking all the way through his leg. It is such a harrowing scenario, that one can forgive Emil for using the opportunity to monologue about the war and a shared experience Ford seemingly repressed. It even works when the basically crippled Ford escapes the situation with all the ease of Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his Commando days. But then it happens. Again. And again. And then a few more times for a last full measure. Repeatedly, both characters find themselves with the advantage of having the other on the ground and at their mercy. Yet, do they act on the turns of fortune? Yes, they certainly do. They use it to sit down and chitchat between bouts of teasing torture porn. During the most ludicrous moment of the movie, De Niro shoots Travolta in the face with a makeshift arrow. This occurs after Emil has threatened to murder Ford’s son and grandson if he attempts to call for help. De Niro hisses, “You want a war, come and get it.” Thus with Emil seemingly one-and-done while bleeding out, Ford makes the wise choice of…not killing him or calling local authorities. Instead, he pins the Serb to his dining room table and proceeds to pour salty lemonade into the facial wounds while making hilarious threats with an axe…which accidentally cuts one of Emil’s ropes facilitating his escape and an extra 20 minutes added to the running time. It would be as if the Road Runner turned the tables on the Coyote and then, instead of dropping the ACME anvil on his head, proceeded to enter into a talking cure long enough for Wile E. to chew through his leg and chase the dumb bird once more. The ending of Killing Season ultimately does achieve some level of pathos and surprising meaning when the last gear has been reversed. The two men even reach a level of understanding that could be viewed as sincere if we did not just see one monologue about God being evil while the other found another rock for the bludgeoning. It may be the Killing Season, but with a pair of sharpshooters like these guys, the wildlife is going to flourish. Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars


2.5 out of 5