They should have made Face/Off 2 instead!
Unnecessarily gratuitous, and with an equally torturous narrative, this botched attempt at reflecting the pointlessness of war through the narrow focus of a one-on-one conflict between two old war veterans misses almost all of its targets.Providing yet more ammunition to fuel the notion that De Niro also has more misses (the abysmal Pacino reunion, Righteous Days, Stone, Killer Elite, Limitless, Red Lights, The Big Wedding, Freelancers, The Family and Grudge Match) than hits these days (Silver Linings Playbook, Being Flynn), and doing little for Travolta’s subsisting career either, it’s difficult to see how either of them agreed to do this movie.
Looking below the surface, however, and squinting slightly when you look, it is possible to see some semblance of a good idea buried deep beneath the horrific violence, tepid action/survival sequences, and limited-scope narrative arc. Unfortunately the limited budget, lacklustre direction (Mark Steven Johnson was better off doing mediocre Marvel actioners like the Ghost Rider films) and overt real-life animosity between the two lead actors robs the end product of absolutely anything worthwhile; anything watchable even.The story involves Travolta – sporting a strangely stylised beard and an even stranger accent – as a Serbian war criminal who hunts down the man who shot him in the head and left him for dead, De Niro’s retired US Colonel, and challenges him to a strange one-on-one battle of wits (and arrows), attempting to find some truth and resolution before he kills his arch-enemy.
What’s perhaps more interesting is the real-life animosity that crippled the production, with De Niro furious over Travolta’s diva-like refusal to perform some of the stunts that the ten-years-elder De Niro was more than happy to do. The reality, though, is that it was probably just a clash of egos, rather than a clear-cut battle of right vs. wrong, but, either way, the animosity seeped into the production which feels like two people beating on each other as swiftly as possible so that they can leave the set early.
Commitment-to-the-project issues aside, the film is flawed from its quest to provide visceral action-orientated thrills (those remnants of the Face/Off reunion are still apparent) and also deliver some substantive narrative arc which offers interesting commentary on the pointlessness of war. Neither element works well at all, and the have-your-cake-and-eat-it approach feels watered-down and, ultimately, anti-climactic. Funnily enough, the movie was reminiscent of the flawed-but-thrilling Friedkin thriller The Hunted, which pitted Benicio del Toro against Tommy Lee Jones under not wholly dissimilar conditions, and which, oddly, whilst providing a more viscerally satisfying conclusion, could have done with Killing Season’s fleeting final words on the subject.
This might have worked better as either a more contemplative indie project or an outright actioner with better-stage setpieces.
There’s little reward to enduring Killing Season, and the horror elements alone – almost bordering on torture-porn – are enough to make the experience quite unpleasant. It’s a shame, I kind-of imagined a Face/Off-starring pseudo-sequel starring Cage and Travolta, and directed by McTiernan, could have been halfway interesting, but this is pretty far from that fanciful dream. Hell, they even dropped the far superior – and far more appropriate – original title of Shrapnel in favour if the generic Killing Season. It’s just a waste of talent and opportunity from start to finish.
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