Red flags tend to go up when a film is continually pushed back from its release date. On occasion, it can just be the studio not “getting” what they have on their hands, such as the treatment Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat is receiving over at Warner Brothers. More often than not though, it’s a sign that a film isn’t very good. Killshot, which has been in some stage of production since early in the decade, with everyone from Tony Scott, Robert De Niro, Viggo Mortensen, and Quentin Tarantino all involved at some point, managed to wrap production at the end of 2006 and still didn’t see release until May 2009. With a cast featuring Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you hope this is one of those films the studio just didn’t understand; unfortunately, it’s one of those that got put through the ringer because it wasn’t very good.
After accidentally shooting his little brother when he got in the way during a hit, Armand “The Blackbird” Degas is ready to retire from the hitman game at the conclusion of one last job with a nice payday. Refusing to let anyone at the scene live that sees his face, he kills a prostitute which just happens to be his contractor’s girl. None to happy, the man decides not to pay Blackbird the fee as promised. Lucky for Blackbird, an opportunity falls right into his lap when a young man named Richie Nix carjacks him, forcing him to take a ride. Not knowing who he’s dealing with, Nix soon has a gun pointed to his head. Blackbird takes an interest in Nix, looking at him as the little brother he’s lost, and agrees to help him shake down a local realtor for $20,000.
It just so happens that the realtor is out for lunch when the two arrive, and they end up confronting Wayne Colson instead, who is in the man’s office awaiting an interview. Not knowing they have the wrong man, a scuffle ensues in the parking lot, and Wayne’s estranged wife Carmen, who is the office’s secretary, witnesses the entire ordeal. Blackbird and Nix get away, but Wayne and Carmen have seen Blackbird’s face, and their troubled marriage is now the least of their worries.
The one shining beacon of light in Killshot is the presence of Mickey Rourke. Watching his performance here, as well as his work in recent films like The Wrestler and Sin City, reminds me of how glad I am that he’s gotten his act together and is being accepted once again amongst Hollywood’s elite. He truly does have a screen presence that is hard to deny, a look all his own (feel free to insert a plastic surgery joke here at your leisure), and a way of evoking a mood within a character that I feel not many others could achieve. Maybe it’s because he’s been down and out in real life and can bring that experience to similarly themed roles in which he plays, but his portrayal of the stoic and remorseful hitman Blackbird has a realistic touch to it that only Rourke could bring. It’s great that he’s taking a bad experience and turning it into a positive by using it to craft believable and real characters; we’re definitely all benefitting from it as film fans.
Sadly, this is about the only good thing that Killshot offers, and without Rourke there would be little at all for me to comment on that wasn’t problematic. In a stark contrast to the strength Rourke brings to the acting elements, everyone else just isn't up to snuff. Thomas Jane, who I’ve never been a particular fan of, doesn’t change my mind about him here. Whenever the script calls for anger on his part, it comes off all wrong, most notably in a scene where cops are asking he and his wife what happened the night before when she unloaded a shotgun into a tree to scare off Blackbird; there’s always just something “off” about his delivery. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I’ve come to really like over the years turns in a lackluster performance. His take on the lunatic, balls-to-the-wall Nix borders on cartoonish, complete with over-exaggerated facial expressions and physical actions; watching him dangle from chandeliers and attempt to pull a deer’s head off of a wall by using his entire body is nothing more than comical. He turns the crazy to 11, and without any other dimensions, creates a character that’s missing the hair-trigger mania that it probably should have had. At least I can’t say much bad about Diane Lane, although she’s not given much to work with.
Script-wise, Killshot isn’t a total failure, but outside of a promising beginning, nothing really delivers. Its biggest sins are that it feels very choppy and has a sagging middle. Apparently test audiences weren’t happy with certain aspects of the film, so the editors went to town, including completely cutting a character played by Johnny Knoxville out of the movie. While that probably accounts for the jumpy feeling in spots, it also may be why outside of Blackbird, none of the characters are very fleshed out. We’re never enlightened as to why Carmen and Wayne are having marital problems, we never really know why Nix is the way he is (outside of a small suggestion that he was bounced around from home to home in foster care), or why his girlfriend Donna is so broken and timid. It almost feels like we’re being thrust into a narrative halfway through and are just expected to accept it. This sadly makes actually caring about what’s happening in the film a hard proposition.
Overall, Killshot isn’t a total failure, as it’s another solid outing for the resurging Rourke, but it’s a step down for pretty much everyone else. Lane and Gordon-Levitt deserve much better (although the blame can be placed squarely on JGL himself for dropping the ball on a character that could have been very interesting), and director John Madden seems out of his element. Blame the studio, blame the editor, blame whatever you will, but Killshot seemed doomed from the beginning, and the finished product doesn't help to sway that perception. Can’t say they didn’t give it their best try, though.
The Weinstein Company’s DVD release of Killshot is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the print looks decent. It has a very drab look to it and lacks definition, but it goes just fine with the overall tone of the film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite nice, with booming shotgun blasts and explosions felt throughout all the speakers. Dialogue is crisp and clear. In a display that pretty much shows how the studio feels about the film, there are no extras to speak of.
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