June 16, 2009


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): **½

When you think about it, Killshot has a most impressive roster of names attached: Award-winning director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), based on the novel by Elmore Leonard (who also executive-produced), a guy who knows his way around crime, thrills and black humor. The movie stars Diane Lane and Thomas Jane (neither of whom seem to have ever given a bad performance) and the newly resuscitated Mickey Rourke, plus a supporting cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (giving one of the scariest performances on record – right up there with Richard Widmark's in Kiss of Death), Rosario Dawson, Lois Smith and Hal Holbrook. Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel. Production design: Andrew Jackness (Big Night). On and on go the renowned names. But while the movie is certainly not bad, it's utterly second-hand.

The problem may stem from a combination of screenplay (by Hossein Amini) and direction. Things begin well enough, but slowly the individual scenes begin to clunk. Each seems to last a similar amount of time so that the pacing takes on a dreadful sense of regularity and the film begins to grow boring. And as events proceed to their conclusion, every tired trope of the chase thriller/mystery appears to rear its head. The climax, in particular, is woeful: obvious -- and worse -- unbelievable. What were they thinking?

Another problem is the villainous – but sometimes sweet – killer-Indian played by Rourke, who seems on the right track most of the time but is finally done in, as is the entire movie, by the strictures of the genre and the attempt to conflate Elmore Leonard’s dark quirks with mainstream moviemaking. Events here are particularly ugly, but rather than taking you on a trip to life’s seamier side, the movie leaves you feeling cheaply used by a been-there/seen-that scenario that simply ratchets up the nastiness to achieve its goals.

And then there’s Gordon-Levitt. A decade ago he made his only hit: 10 Things I Hate About You (which starred Heath Ledger, an actor with which Gordon-Levitt shares some similarities). Since then, in quite a few flops (some were good films, such as Brick and The Lookout, that did poorly in the box-office) Gordon-Levitt has been terrific: always real, consistently interesting and surprisingly versatile. Here, he outdoes himself as a memorably crazy/malevolent killer. If you're already a fan, this alone should induce you to queue up.

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Posted by cphillips at June 16, 2009 9:06 AM
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