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Killing Season

2013 | 91 min | R | 2.39:1

Killing Season


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Theatrical release date

 12 July, 2013

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Killing Season Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 15, 2013

A decade ago, the pairing of John Travolta and Robert De Niro would’ve been considered event cinema, watching two popular actors square off in a physically challenging thriller. Today, it’s not such an extraordinary viewing experience, especially when both talents openly guide their career by paycheck opportunities, seldom invested in the details of the work. “Killing Season” is typical of De Niro and Travolta’s recent dramatic interests, placing the two in a dreary, one-note cat-and-mouse effort that’s rarely exciting and geopolitically numb. Derivative and bizarrely graphic, “Killing Season” is nothing more than another forgettable entry in two ongoing filmographies that desperately need more inspired professional choices.

After suffering psychological trauma while on duty as a NATO operative during the Bosnia War, Benjamin (Robert De Niro) has elected to remove himself from society, holing up inside a cabin located in the Appalachian Mountains, nursing longstanding pain from a shrapnel wound. Avoiding contact with son Chris (Milo Ventimiglia), Benjamin prefers solitude and the challenge of deer hunting. Crossing his path one day is Emil (John Travolta), a helpful tourist who displays a welcoming personality with Benjamin, insisting the pair connect as men, bonding over a shared love of Johnny Cash, arrow hunting, and Jagermeister. Planning a morning excursion into the deep woods to take down a prized buck, Emil turns his bow on Benjamin, revealing himself to be a sadistic Serbian soldier left for dead long ago by the former military man, returning to have his revenge. Wounded but mobile, Benjamin takes off into the forest, struggling to secure the upper hand on his determined pursuer.

“Killing Season” is directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the helmer of “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider,” and the wretched romantic comedy, “When in Rome.” Perhaps sniffing around for a thematic change of pace, Johnson pares down the pressures of Hollywood filmmaking with Evan Daugherty’s unobtrusive screenplay, which largely involves the hostility of two men roaming around the middle of nowhere, featuring only brief outside interaction with the character of Chris, who desperately wants to welcome his father back into his life, trying to entice the estranged parent to attend the baptism of his baby. Beyond a smattering of familial concern, “Killing Season” sticks to game of survival between Benjamin and Emil as they race around trees and enter empty spaces, trading arrows and threats as the day wears on.

“Killing Season” isn’t a dynamic film, coming across as more of an inert theatrical production than necessary cinema. Extensive monologues are shared between the players, each unusually loquacious, wedged between offensive measures, finding the enemies sharing their personal history, debating spirituality, and snapping bitterly at each other as tensions mount. Daugherty dreams up bland exchanges for Benjamin and Emil, while a rigid screenplay structure guarantees a lack of surprise, rendering their purged thoughts and desires tepid at best, failing to create a chokehold of revenge that encourages anxiety. Stopping to enjoy pedestrian monologuing strips the movie of movement, weakening the pressure Johnson hopes to build.

To retain a modicum of attention, violence is brought in to generate punctuation, studying Emil’s gruesome plans for Benjamin’s gaping wounds and tasting shock when the aging soldier plants an arrow into the stranger’s cheek. There’s also a torture sequence involving lemons, salt, and Emil strapped to a table just to add some discomfort. The horror is a transparent attempt to rile up squeamish viewers, but more attention should’ve been placed on the overall pressure of the picture, not just select visits to the gore zone. Still, the oddity of two bow hunters racing around the woods is enough to lend promise to the early going, though optimism is quickly rubbed away when it’s clear all Johnson can manage to do with the war zone-weary premise is construct a few blips of stinging violence. The rest of the film isn’t nearly as memorable or vividly imagined, and its politics are vague at best.

Despite turning in some of his finest work in last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” De Niro is back in robot mode during “Killing Season,” only faintly committing to a part that requires grimaces and light jogging. Travolta has the flashier role, arriving with a thick accent that’s not nearly the disaster it could’ve been. With only 80 minutes to work out the particulars of hate and self-preservation, the pairing is frustratingly unplugged, more interested in surviving the shoot than contributing to it. There isn’t much to “Killing Season” to begin with, yet with Travolta and De Niro, there’s a glimmer of hope the actors can pull complexity out of thin air. Unfortunately, that type of sorcery doesn’t interest the stars, leaving Johnson to produce a nail-biting viewing experience out of banal conversations and gaping cheek holes.

Starring: Robert De Niro, John Travolta, Milo Ventimiglia
Director: Mark Steven Johnson

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