Review: Killing Season
PLOT: When two Bosnian War veterans meet, they conveniently become friends. Yet once upon a time, the American and the Serbian were on opposite sides of the war. One decides to move on while the other has plans to finish what was started so many years ago. De Niro and Travolta end up shooting arrows and desperately trying to survive a war that doesn’t seem to have ended for either one.
It is hard to believe a ninety minute movie can feel as long as KILLING SEASON. Sure the John Travolta and Robert De Niro action drama attempts to inject a real sense of purpose in this tale of war and revenge but it simply falls into mediocrity. Watching the two actors spout long-winded monologues about hunting, war and confession oftentimes reaches the excitement level of a dramatic scene-study class. This is not to say that the two actors aren’t talented – clearly that is not the case – but the substance here feels forced without a real sense of honesty. Part of that may be Travolta’s extra thick helping of the ridiculous Russian accent or De Niro’s very own sometimes Southern dialect – it seemed to pop in and out during the course of the film.
The story focuses on the two men who are both Veterans of the Bosnian War. We know this by seeing a flashback of a group of Serbian soldiers captured and killed early on in 1992. Of course one of them is Emil Kovac (Travolta) in an all too silly reveal. This particular scene shouldn’t have generated a smile, but holy hell is it bad. We don’t get a glimpse however of Benjamin Ford (De Niro) but it’s pretty damn obvious he is there. Cut to present day where we find Ford is a nature photographer living in the woods – he was so traumatized that he won’t even go to his grandson’s baptism… Jerk! Of course danger is awaiting him as we find Kovac in a bar telling his buddy he is going hunting. As luck would have it, we soon find him lurking in the shadows watching Ford dealing with car trouble in a storm. Does he attempt to take revenge quickly? If only it had been, then we could have gotten this over with a whole lot faster.
During the course of KILLING SEASON we see a lot of discussion. The best part of the film is the not-so-subtle use of the terrific Johnny Cash song “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” This cat-and-mouse scenario rarely raises any tension aside from a couple of decent chase sequences. The same steps are taken at every turn. Converse, pretty nature shot, a little bloody torture and repeat, and so on and so on. When the action comes into play, it is simply hard to care about either of their situations. For all the back and forth dialogue between the two, it didn’t really shed any light on the two characters aside from the superficial story of angst-ridden Vets who’ve yet to come to terms with the terror they experienced. And when director Mark Steven Johnson revs up the action, it is hard to get past what clearly looks to be the use of stuntmen.
This script by Evan Daugherty (SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and the upcoming DIVERGENT and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES) attempts to be more than just a simple action movie. And who knows, maybe at one time it was. The problem is that somewhere between art-house drivel and action flick lite, KILLING SEASON is just ponderous and dull. The obviousness was infuriating, whether it was Ford’s son (played by Milo Ventimiglia) hinting that he might come to visit his father with the family and does or the constant mention of Ford’s bad leg, you can see exactly where it is all heading. Even the end feels a bit like a cop-out. The damage these two do to each other – including shooting arrows into cheeks or calves – it seems a miracle they could survive the torture they are put through. Of course, at times it was torture to sit through as well.
It is a shame that De Niro and Travolta couldn’t have made a better movie together. KILLING SEASON is competently put together, yet the woefully hollow dialogue and the predictable plot developments make for a pretty bland flick. If you can survive all that you still have to make it through the heavy-handed symbolism and Travolta’s grating accent. With all that time spent on Ford and Kovac it is nearly impossible to imagine that you wouldn’t want to root for one of these guys. But nope! Nothing! Nada! With funny accents, boring monologues and repetitive sequences, you might as well just sit in an acting class for an hour and get the same level of excitement – albeit this one has much better scenery which is a plus.