Looking through Robert De Niro`s recent filmography is a rather disheartening process. In the past decade or so, he`s soldiered his way through over-ripe dramas, unfunny comedies and pedestrian thrillers, with a gem of a film popping up every once in a while as reward for his efforts. One of the grand old men of Hollywood seems deeply intent on working as much as possible, even while the industry that once made full and glorious use of his prodigious talents no longer has any idea what to do with him. It`s a shame and a trend that isn`t, sadly, bucked with Killing Season, an odd revenge drama that flits uncomfortably between the genres of action thriller, horror movie and torture porn.
Many years after the Bosnian War, American military vet Benjamin Ford (De Niro) has retreated with his scars of the physical and psychological variety to a remote mountain cabin, hiding away from humanity in general and his loving son Chris (Milo Ventimiglia) specifically. Unexpectedly, he makes his first real human connection in a long time with Emil Kovacs (John Travolta), a garrulous ex-Serbian soldier he meets seemingly by chance in the woods. But it soon becomes clear to Ford that his new acquaintance harbours war wounds too: including a bitterly personal desire for revenge that can only be slaked in a hunting season of his own devising.
There`s a germ of a great psychological drama buried beneath the troubling trappings of Killing Season. Both De Niro and Travolta rip into their roles with impressive levels of commitment: the former constructing a tough-as-nails exterior around a credibly vulnerable man riddled with the doubts and guilt of war, the latter somehow working his way around a thick European accent to lend an air of puzzling charisma to a character with deeply unsympathetic, sociopathic tendencies. It`s largely because of their efforts that the film is strangely effective in its quieter moments.
Unfortunately, those are few and far between. Evan Daugherty`s script is concerned less with mining emotional drama and more with ramping up the film`s action beats and ludicrously dark twists. To that end, Killing Season seems to almost revel in the physical pain and suffering it doles out to both Ford and Kovacs. This is not so much the action-thriller version of movies about post-traumatic stress disorder or battle fatigue, like The Hurt Locker, instead bringing to mind the brutally banal, horrifyingly pointless torture porn that forms the premise of the Saw franchise.
Try as they might, neither De Niro nor Travolta can save a film that doesn`t really know what it`s trying to be. It takes one too many detours down the torture-porn route to be a truly effective psychological drama, and lacks any of the bite and wit required to lift it out of its more melodramatic moments. At one point, Killing Season was intended as a vehicle to reunite Travolta with Nicolas Cage for the first time since their barmy action smash-hit Face/Off. It says something unspeakably tragic about the final product and De Niro`s ongoing downward career trajectory that the resulting film might actually have been better if it had stayed that course.
Summary: A strange, occasionally potent mix of torture porn and action thriller, just barely salvaged by but hardly worthy of its stars.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars