Title: Killing Season
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Screenwriter: Evan Daugherty
Cast: Robert DeNiro, John Travolta, Milo Ventimiglia, Elizabeth Olin
Screened at: AMC 34th St., NYC, 7/10/13
Opens: July 12, 2013
“Killing Season”’s scripter Evan Daugherty throws in a slightly off-color joke, the punch line of which has a lot to do with this movie’s moral. Featuring John Travolta working for the first time ever with Robert DeNiro, the shtick goes like this:
Benjamin Ford (Robert DeNiro) speaking to Emil Kovac (John Travolta)
“When the war ended I went to confession and said, Father, Bless me for I have sinned. During the war I took in a woman and hid her from the Nazis. The priest replies, ‘Why son, that’s a wonderful thing you did. You have no need to confess.’ So I continued, Father to repay me for my kindness, the woman gave me sexual favors (a B.J.). And the Father replies, ‘That’s OK son. During wars we are all sinners.’”
The punch line will not be revealed here because its use near the conclusion of “Killing Season” is a zinger. “Killing Season,” which could be called “The Hunt” or “The Hunting Games,” is a cat-and-mouse psychological thriller, a theatrical one in that it’s basically a two-character drama with sadistic action sequences followed by considerable talk. This is a revenge fantasy involving America’s role in the Serbia-Croatia-Bosnia wars of 1995, the one in which the Serbs sought to “ethnically cleanse” those of a different religion and ethnic background. The NATO involvement seemed strictly a moral adventure by the West since the area is not a particularly strategic one, but in any case, when Kovac survives a group execution (yes, the Americans were involved in the dastardly deed, motivated by their look at a railroad car filled with rotting corpses), he gets a file of the Americans who served as executioners and seeks to torture and kill Benjamin Ford for revenge.
Director Mark Steven Johnson, whose “Ghost Rider” in 2007 focuses on a hell-bent vigilante, is in his métier as he unfolds this tale.
Ford, who had won a silver star in combat, is now living alone in a rustic environment enjoying a terrifically furnished cabin, moose heads and rifle on the wall, playing his favorite Johnny Cash record. When he heads out, his car breaks down and is miraculously repaired by Kovic, who is invited to share a dinner and war stories in the cabin. The next day, Ford is surprised by a bevy of arrows shot by his former house guest, and learns the hard way after vicious torture (Kovic makes Ford put a cord through the hole in his leg) that Kovic is more than the friendly auto mechanic. At that point the two continue to tell their war stories.
What happens during the major part of the film is a game of one-upmanship, a sport which could easily have declared a winner if the guy who is one-up would simply kill the enemy. First Ford is hanged by the injured leg, then he gets the jump on Kovic, only to lose his advantage, and so it goes, back and forth until the unusual conclusion.
Milo Ventimiglia as Chris Ford, who is Benjamin’s son, and Elizabeth Olin as Sarah Ford, his daughter-in-law, make a couple or appearances without threatening the basically two-character theatrics. The landscape is stunning in the Appalachian Mountains of Northern Georgia, featuring Tallulah Gorge State Park and Black Rock Mountain State Park, with some filming in Sofia, Bulgaria where the residents speak Serbo-Croatian. Travolta keeps his Serbian accept throughout, giving him the more difficult role, and the he and DeNiro play just fine together and will probably be a box office draw largely because an audience will want to see this historic first.
Rated R. 91 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C+
Acting – B
Technical – A-
Overall – B-