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.


Unknown said...

That's a damn shame about this film. I had high hopes for it based on the cast list. I might still check it out if only for Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane, both of whom I enjoy immensely.

I get the feeling that John Madden was just the wrong choice to direct and you comments about his lackluster direction seem to bear that out. John Dahl of RED ROCK WEST fame would have been a great fit and given the film some visual pizazz.

And man, the Weinsteins really dropped the ball on this one, along with the underrated FACTORY GIRL, which I quite enjoyed but they also buried that one too.

Marty McKee said...

There is at least one mindbogglingly stupid plot point here that almost killed the whole movie for me. Still, KILLSHOT is decent fare. Rourke is very good in it, and Lane appears in a negligee and panties. Um, oh, yeah, she's a fine actress too.

Anonymous said...

Diane Lane did NOT emerge unscathed from this film "KILLSHOT". She was the top-lined star and the film was originally a star vehicle for her. Sadly, when Knoxville was cut so were most of Lane's scenes (his character stalks hers). Then as her career cooled and Mickey Rourke's got stronger, the Weinsteins changed the focus of the film onto Blackbird. Lane endured all this to see the film go pretty much straight-to-video (except the Arizona screenings). She later defended the original cut and quit showbiz altogether for well over a year. She's only recently decided to act again (accepting a lead role in Disney's "Secretariat"). I know for a fact that this whole "Killshot" episode cut her deep though. A shame.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember BROTHERS GRIMM?

When that was announced I expected something special. Gilliam, you know. Alas, it's almost in every aspect a very BAD movie (Monica Belluci is always a pleasure to watch and the score Carlo Siliotto is excellent). "Thanks" Weinstein brothers!


Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...


John Dahl would have been an interesting choice. Looking him up, he seems to have been working in television lately, which is a shame because I particularly liked those thrillers he made back in the 90s.


I think I know what you're talking about and it doesn't quite kill the movie, mostly because there were already a number of problems by that point, but it certainly doesn't help it.


Thank you for your comment and for clarifying the reasons for the muddled narrative in the film. I hope I didn't sound flip at all when mentioning Diane Lane in this context. Maybe more than anything I was referring to my own feelings about these actors, how I hope to see them in better films in the future and how I really did think they pulled off some good work in a film that seemed to be not what they set out to make.

I think Diane Lane is a terrific actress who has been sadly misused by Hollywood in recent years. I always thought that a big reason that MUST LOVE DOGS, not the greatest movie in the world, did decent business was because a certain portion of the audience strongly relates to her and wanted to see her in that type of film. It seems like a shame that more films haven't taken advantage of her in that way (without naming titles, I hope she was well paid for a few things). I'm very sorry that KILLSHOT turned out so badly for her and I really do look forward to seeing her in other films in the future. I hope that there are sill great performances to come from her.


I'm actually a little curious to see BROTHERS GRIMM again but yeah, I remember it being a petty big disappointment.

Unknown said...

re: THE BROTHERS GRIMM, I've always felt that there was a good film in there somewhere trying to get out. There is actually a really good book on the making of that exposes a lot of the crap Gilliam was forced to endure at the hands of the Weinsteins. What a shame. i still think that the chemistry between Damon and Ledger is quite good and is it just me or is Peter Stormare channeling Timothy Carey in this film? Spooky!


Having read the fantastic novel KILLSHOT by Elmore Leonard, THE FUTURIST! remembers that the young couple is not only in peril due to the duo of assassins, but there is an added threat of a government law officer who is in charge of the couple's witness protection status. He develops a nasty interest in the wife; this must have been the Knoxville role. Great book. Heard once that Tarantino had the rights to this and was going to direct.

Anonymous said...

Yep, this movie is not bad, but honestly nothing in it ever really works. Another botch job on an Elmore Leonard novel. Nice write up!

- Bob