Monday, June 29, 2009
No Patience For Details
John Madden’s KILLSHOT began shooting way back in 2005 with an impressive pedigree that included an Elmore Leonard novel for source material, a cast featuring Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane and Thomas Jane as well as the director of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at the helm. Once filming was completed it then proceeded to spend the next several years in post-production hell at the Weinstein Company and after whatever reshoots or reedits that took place it finally received a small theatrical run in Arizona earlier this year, probably for contractual reasons, followed by an unheralded release on DVD. Why didn’t the Weinstein Company give it a wide release, especially considering they could have put a Mickey Rourke film into theaters just as he was being praised for THE WRESTLER? Well, it’s the Weinsteins, so why do they ever do anything? I’ll freely say that if I’d paid money to see KILLSHOT in a theater I wouldn’t have felt particularly ripped off—I’ve paid to see much worse—but now that I’ve seen it I can safely say that whatever went on during those several years, it wasn’t worth all that trouble.
On the run after killing the wrong person during a job, hitman Armand “The Blackbird” Degas (Mickey Rourke), still haunted by the death of his younger brother during another assignment, takes on two-bit crook Richie Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a partner and the two attempt to extort money from a real estate bigshot. When the plan goes wrong and Degas is spotted by real estate agent Carmen Colson (Diane Lane) she and estranged husband Wayne (Thomas Jane) are placed in the Witness Protection Program to get her to testify. As the two try to figure out the state of their marriage in this new setting, Degas insists to their hyper partner that this loose end has to be dealt with, saying,“You don’t ever leave things undone. You don’t ever think somebody’s not going to remember you.” This leads the two men to do whatever they can to track down the Colsons who soon realize that even the government cannot fully protect them.
It’s not exactly bad—it’s certainly watchable and anyone who Netflixes it probably won’t be too upset but overall the end result is pretty lifeless. Madden seems to be too polite in his filmmaking style to have much flair for this genre and if there was ever any sort of real energy present it feels like it’s been removed with the finished version pared down to not much more than just the plot. As a result, things move so fast that very little is ever particularly believable even on a pulp level. Jane’s character seems to settle into his new life in about five minutes (there’s zero credibility to this stuff) and the few details we get about the couple being placed into witness protection makes it seem like it’s not all that different from taking a weekend trip out of town. The plot at least makes sense on a basic level even if there are holes but troubles in post become fairly evident (quick flashbacks to remind us why the characters are behaving a certain way, that sort of thing) and at times it feels like it’s in a rush to get to the 90 minute mark so we can wrap things up and just get it over with. Photographed by the great Caleb Deschanel (BEING THERE, THE RIGHT STUFF) it certainly isn’t a bad-looking film but nothing in the staging ever seems particularly inventive and, mostly set in Michigan and Missouri, it all has that bland shot-in-Canada quality (it was shot in Toronto and a few scenes actually takes place there) which adds to how the film just feels sort of blah. Even the score by Klaus Badelt is so dry and sparse it’s easy to wonder if he even got paid his full fee for the job he turned in. But everything else aside, the biggest problem with KILLSHOT is structural—when the film begins it’s clear that Rourke’s Blackbird is the lead character. He’s a ruthless killer, not particularly likable, but Rourke helps to automatically make him intriguing. For the first ten or so minutes it’s clear that the film is about him and considering the source material is from Elmore Leonard (a book I unfortunately haven’t read) it’s a nice daydream to imagine it having been a pretty good Charles Bronson film back in the 70s during the MECHANIC/MR. MAJESTYK days. Then, as Lane and Jane are introduced and find themselves in their predicament while dealing with their marriage the film suddenly becomes about them which just confuses things. It's as if somebody decided to focus the story on who was believed to be sympathetic as opposed to who should be the center of a hard-boiled crime thriller. Rourke (playing half Indian and, as someone else on the net has pointed out, looking disturbingly like the killer in BODY DOUBLE) and his character are always interesting but, much like his work in Tony Scott’s DOMINO by a certain point I felt like he was doing more for the film than it was doing for him. Late in the film he tells someone, “I’m not the same as him,” referring to someone who’s even worse but though we’ve seen evidence of that dimension the film just doesn’t earn such a moment. By the end, he’s little more than the villain who needs to be vanquished and how the plot winds up isn’t bad but it unfortunately chooses the least interesting way to get there.
With Rourke slightly stranded by the film (although he really is good here and it’s great to think that maybe he’ll be seen in films on a more regular basis now), it’s Diane Lane who does the best work, bringing a great deal of dimension to a part that may have been made more threadbare by the cutting (when asked how many children they have, the tone of her voice when she replies, “Almost one,” suggests a level of complexity beyond anything the film is going to try to approach). She and Jane work together extremely well but their story still feels perfunctory due to how fast things move. In comparison, the reunion of Rourke and Lane decades after RUMBLE FISH brings real energy to their scenes beyond what the story requires. It’s hard not to wish that their material gave the two of them more to play off of each other with than just a few enigmatic glances. Rosario Dawson has a few moments in a fairly small role and she gets extra points for allowing herself to look believably bad, which makes sense for the character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who did some good work in THE LOOKOUT a few years ago, acts up a storm in every single scene he’s in but as a tough guy I didn’t buy him for a second, even one who’s as stupid as the character he’s playing is. He just comes off as a Vincent Chase-type trying to pretend he’s a cheap crook and it seriously hurts the film as a result. Hal Holbrook appears briefly in a crucial role early on and the tension he shows acting opposite Rourke makes it seem like the film is going to have more punch than it does. Reports indicate that Johnny Knoxville was once in the film playing a supporting role but all traces of him have been cut out, though he’s still listed as co-starring in the Netflix plot summary.
It’s too bad because this type of film is right up my alley and I’d like to see more of them but they really do need to be made by people who understand what they should be—some portentous narration by Rourke near the beginning and end seem to be reaching for a significance that isn’t there and, frankly, doesn’t need to be. Mickey Rourke, who made this well before THE WRESTLER, is obviously coming out of this unscathed and Lane & Jane will as well but it’s a shame when actors like this are clearly able to pull off the best possible version of what should be a cool, no-nonsense crime thriller but don’t quite get the chance because of other factors involved. It definitely has its moments and there are far worse ways to spend 95 minutes but you might want to have another film standing by when it’s finished in case you feel a little undernourished when the end credits roll.