DVD Review: Killshot
Killshot is a very odd movie, for a number of reasons. It was apparently finished quite a while back – I distinctly remember watching trailers for it three or four years ago – and it’s been sitting on a shelf ever since, I guess dusted off in the wake of Mickey Rourke’s deservedly acclaimed comeback turn in The Wrestler. It’s based on a novel by Elmore Leonard (this is not odd in and of itself; Hollywood’s been adapting his books for decades), and it follows a half-Native Canadian mob hitman (Mickey Rourke) stalking a married but separated couple (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane) living in rural Ontario after they see his face during a botched attempt to blackmail the realtor Lane works for (he has a thing about not letting people live after they see his face). Ultimately, it fails on just about every level, but a lot of that seems to be connected with the process of adapting a novel to a movie.
I’ve never read an Elmore Leonard book, but after seeing quite a few movies based on his crime novels (Out of Sight is one of my all-time favourites, and I think Jackie Brown is, objectively speaking, Quentin Tarantino’s best movie), I feel like I sort of get the vibe a lot of his books have; I don’t like using clichés like “quirky characters,” but Leonard’s work seems to have them in spades. His books apparently manage to switch from being absurdly funny to dark and violent, and this juxtaposition is notoriously difficult to pull off in a movie. Think about Don Cheadle in Out of Sight or Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown; both go from being charismatic and funny oddballs to cold-blooded sociopaths on a dime, and you believe them in either mode. But those movies were made by Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, respectively, filmmakers with far more talent that Killshot director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Madden removes what I can only assume were the similar injections of offbeat humour in the source material – there are a few absurd plot turns that may have been handled more comically in the book, but the film plays them completely straight, which just gives it a weird, random vibe – with the result being a clichéd, overly grim hitman story that takes itself far too seriously.
As I mentioned, it seems like the recent success of The Wrestler, and Mickey Rourke in particular, prompted Killshot finally getting a release. Rourke’s not terrible here, but he’s also nowhere close to his work in The Wrestler. Again, I have no idea how much of this stuff is taken directly from Leonard’s novel, but he plays his half-Native character with what I believe is supposed to be a French-Canadian accent (which he really plays up in some scenes and drops entirely in others), and he’s under a layer of orange-y make-up, which I assume is meant to make him appear more Native, but, combined with his craggy face, makes him look like a burn victim. Beyond this, he’s the same hitman featured in a hundred movies before: he’s a closed-off loner who lives according to a strict set of rules so that he can do his job as effectively as possible, and his world begins to collapse when he allows himself to feel an emotional connection to someone he meets (in this case, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s loudmouthed wannabe bank robber). It’s a character arc that’s been done so many times that I was half embarrassed just typing that out. Madden and screenwriter Hossein Amini make some obligatory attempts to make him seem vaguely sympathetic, but again, it’s not anything that hasn’t been done before, and they seemingly lose interest in exploring the idea as the film nears its ridiculously predictable climax.
Despite Rourke having more screen time, Killshot is clearly supposed to be about the Lane and Jane characters, but there’s nothing to them other beyond a half-assed, been-there-done-that subplot about their crumbling marriage; it’s as if even Madden realized how uninteresting they are, and focused instead on the more colourful criminals. (At the risk of beating a dead horse with this comparison, one of the things that makes Jackie Brown work so well is that the “normal” protagonist, Pam Grier’s titular character, is the most interesting and well-drawn character in the entire movie; here it’s the opposite.) The bottom line is, I never cared about the state of their marriage or whether Rourke killed them or not.
The lone bright spot in all of Killshot – and the reason I’m not giving the movie an even lower grade than I am – is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richie Nix, a brash, small-time hood who Rourke takes under his wing because he reminds him of his dead kid brother. Who would have guessed that the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun would turn into one of the best actors of his generation, but there it is (I’ve been a fan of his since I watched the oddball 2005 high school-slash-detective flick Brick, which will be the subject of a future post). While he comes a bit too close to going completely over the top in some scenes, Gordon-Levitt often seems like he’s acting in a completely different, far more interesting movie. He manages to make Nix a completely loathsome scumbag, but he also gives him enough charisma that you can see how his petty cons could actually work on occasion, possibly even on you. If it wasn’t for his performance, I might not have made it through to the end credits.
Killshot is an Elmore Leonard crime flick with all the cool Elmore Leonard stuff drained out, leaving a dried-out husk of a by-the-numbers hitman thriller. I could devote an entire post to listing other movies that cover exactly the same ground that Killshot tries but in far more entertaining fashion. This one probably should have stayed on the shelf.
There’s absolutely nothing on the Killshot DVD. On the one hand, it was nice because it meant I didn’t have to spend any more time with this movie beyond the hour and 35 minutes it took to watch it, but on the other hand I was sort of disappointed that I didn’t get to see or hear Madden or anyone else involved with the film try to explain what they were going for in this bizarre misfire.
Labels: DVD review
A blog about movies, by a guy who probably watches too many.