DIRECTOR: Mark Steven Johnson
CAST: John Travolta, Robert de Niro, Milo Ventimiglia,
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
A former Serbian soldier and his one-time American opponent get a second – and third, and fourth – chance to torture each other in Killing Season, from director Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil, Ghost Rider).
Travolta plays a Serbian with a fat accent and a grudge the size of the Austro-Hungarian empire who travels to the US to “accidentally” befriend De Niro (pictured), a retired US soldier who also fought in the 1990s Yugoslav wars.
Their hunting trip in the Appalachians quickly turns into a long-winded chase as the true reason for the Serb’s visit emerges, though the film struggles to suggest the former fighters are true equals or even interested in actually killing each other.
If some choice (if brief) moments of gore as well as the first pairing of the two veteran stars might spark some initial audience interest, the performances themselves won’t aid word-of-mouth. This modestly scaled project should perform better as a small-screen item.
Emil Kovac (Travolta) was part of a gang of vicious Serbian soldiers during the Yugoslav conflict. Benjamin Ford (De Niro) fought there with Nato, though now he’s retired to a hunting lodge in the Appalachians where he hunts and equally savours being far away from his ex-wife and her new husband. Perhaps with some regret, he sees very little of his adult son (Milo Ventimiglia), who’s just had a child.
When Ford’s car breaks down in the forest, a foreign man claiming to be Bosnian appears to help him out. When it starts pouring, he’s invited back to the cabin, where the men trade war stories. Since the film begins with a flashback to the war and a scene in present-day Belgrade, where Kovac lays his hand on a file with Ford’s information, it doesn’t come as a surprise in the rather slow first half-hour that the Serb suggests a hunting trip that quickly turns into a different type of hunt.
Various backdrops and torture methods – including waterboarding with a laughable amount of salt and lemon juice – are used, but not once do De Niro, Travolta or Johnson suggest the men are truly in mortal danger.
The screenplay by Evan Daugherty lacks humour and struggles to integrate the supposed confessions and conversations the two often bone-weary men have about the war and God.
Cinematographer Peter Menzies (Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) isn’t nearly as interested in the scenery (shot in Georgia and Bulgaria) as Travolta, who chews large quantities of it as Kovac. He not only looks disconcerting with his pitch black chinstrap beard but also sounds it, with his thick, occasionally unintelligible Slavic accent. De Niro is particularly subdued here, further reinforcing the impression that a true battle of wills between the protagonists will never materialise. The obvious use of body doubles in several sequences is also distracting.
Originally called Shrapnel, the film was meant to team up Travolta with his Face/Off co-star Nicolas Cage under the direction of John McTiernan. – The Hollywood Reporter
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