Genius Products // 2008 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 1st, 2009
Yesterday she was a witness. Today she's a target.
I can remember seeing the trailers for John Madden's Killshot at least a year ago. It was a movie I would have gone to see: based on an Elmore Leonard novel, starring Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Thomas Jane and Rosario Dawson, directed by the guy that made Shakespeare in Love. Apparently, those qualifications weren't enough to secure the film a theatrical release. Now, Killshot finally resurfaces as it goes straight to DVD.
Carmen Colson (Diane Lane, Must Love Dogs) and her soon-to-be ex-husband Wayne (Thomas Jane, Stander) are placed into the witness protecting program after crossing paths with ruthless hit man Armand "Blackbird" Degas (Mickey Rourke, Angel Heart) and his young upstart partner, the hotheaded Richie Nix (Brick). With Blackbird and Richie on their trail, the Colsons are in a race for their lives against two killers who won't stop until the job is done.
Tone is such a tricky thing to pull off in a movie, but sometimes it's all you've got. You can have good actors and all the clever plotting in the world, but if you mess up the tone there's no way the movie's going to come together.
I've read enough Elmore Leonard to know that tone has a lot to do with what makes his novels work. And though his books have been adapted numerous times into films, only a few of them have worked; the short list includes Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. 2004's The Big Bounce almost got Leonard's tone right, but it messed up just about everything else -- especially the crucially tight plotting. Suffice it to say, there have been more bad Leonard adaptations than good.
I haven't read the novel that inspired the 2008 Leonard adaptation Killshot, so I can't speak to how faithful the film is to the source. I can say, being familiar enough with the author's work, that the tone of the movie feels wrong and that the whole thing sinks as a result. Sure, there are a few workable elements; Mickey Rourke, pre-The Wrestler comeback, makes an imposing villain and Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows signs that he's the only one who understands what the movie should be. Ultimately, though, director John Madden seems to have missed what makes Leonard's work so original and fun. He's crafted Killshot into a dreary, by-the-numbers cat-and-mouse thriller. That's all wrong.
There are a number of colorful characters to be found in Killshot, like Rourke's part-Native American hitman or Levitt's hot-headed dummy or Thomas Jane's hunting-obsesed ex-husband. Rosario Dawson (This Girl's Life) shows up for some reason, playing Levitt's girlfriend. She's exactly the kind of character that's right at home in an Elmore Leonard novel: obsessed with Elvis (claiming she'd rather he play her a song than sleep with her) with a penchant for sex with criminals. She's offbeat, a little sleazy and a lot stupid but not at all evil -- she just has simple dreams. Director John Madden treats her like she's any other character, draining the color out of her in the interest of moving the plot forward. Either he didn't get the eccentricities of all the characters or he simply wasn't interested in them. What's left is a movie full of people that might be engaging and somewhat new to movie audiences forced into the machinations of a perfunctory Hollywood thriller.
There's a lot of plot-moving going on in Killshot, despite the fact that the plot isn't all that interesting. It takes a long time to set up the Lane and Jane characters as witnesses to a crime (they don't actually witness any crime at all, come to think of it); the rest of the movie then follows both them and the hitmen around through various close encounters and relocations until the final standoff. Assuming I can believe that Blackbird and Richie really would follow some couple across the country to kill them for seeing a face, it's not all that compelling as stories go. Again, Madden and screenwriter Hossein Amini miss the point of Leonard's charm; it's in the character details and the dialogue exchanges and the odd little behaviors. It's not in people chasing each other and shooting guns. Think about Jackie Brown or Out of Sight; are the action scenes what you remember from those films? Didn't think so.
Maybe these guys were out of their depth. They weren't the right pair for the job. Screenwriter Amini's credits include The Wings of the Dove and the remake of The Four Feathers. Madden is best known for Shakespeare in Love (a movie I have great affection for, but which doesn't exactly scream "funky crime caper"), but has also directed Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Proof. These are all pretty staid, British-influenced films. The pair make the mistake of thinking Killshot ought to be staid, too, focusing instead on the suspense of it all. What it needs is to be offbeat and interesting. It fails to distinguish itself.
The Killshot DVD offers the film in an attractive 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that leaves little to complain about: colors are well balanced, blacks hold up and there are very few visible defects or enhancements. The 5.1 audio track is fine as well, delivering the dialogue clearly and not pulling any punches when it comes to those shootouts. There are no extras included.
I won't say that Killshot is a complete waste of time. It's got a good cast and it isn't exactly a bad film -- just a totally unremarkable one. Given what the movie had to work with, that may be the greatest crime of all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R