2013 / Director. Mark Steven Johnson.
Roman Polanski's DEATH AND THE MAIDEN and William Friedkin's THE HUNTED are two exceptional films and I reckon if you were to mash 'em together you would get KILLING SEASON. It's a survival film about retribution and repentance and the personal cost of war. Robert DeNiro plays an American war veteran who served in the Bosnian war. He lives a reclusive life in the wilderness where he fights his personal demons. Travolta plays an ex Serbian soldier who has spend 20 years plotting a brutal revenge on the man he holds responsible for acts against humanity. Posing as a European hunter, Travolta's character befriends DeNiro's and during a day of hunting together things take a violent turn. It becomes a game of cat and mouse with the upper-hand switching between the two at every advantage. I really liked it and I have read nothing but poor reviews, which leaves me bewildered. I can definitely see the film's flaws, granted, but it is by no means a terrible film. The weakest link is John Travolta. I cant place a perfect Serbian accent in my head and so it would be unfair for me to criticise his handle of it, but something about it did feel off to me. And then there's his hair... what the hell is with his hair? With a stencilled brow-line he looks like he's worked a tin of boot polish into his scalp. He does look ridiculous and the movie would have hugely benefited from a different actor in the role. That said, he still has his moments. DeNiro is great and it's good to see him returning to some meaty roles lately. After a decade of mediocre films he's starting to show signs of the DeNiro we knew from all those years ago. The action is handled really well with some flinch-inducing archery sequences and a whole lot of graphic torture. It's not for the faint hearted. Director Mark Steven Johnson drives the film well and it's easily his best film to date (although Simon Birch might come close). I do wish he'd taken advantage of the magnificent Appalachia mountains because, while his focus was on a close-up survival story, a greater sense of wilderness would have given it more depth (First Blood and Deliverance come to mind). Interestingly the screenplay has been doing the rounds for years and was originally conceived as a follow up to Face/Off with Travolta and Nicholas Cage set to team up again. John McTiernan was to direct it before it all fell through and it would have been set in the 1970s. I wonder what kind of film it would have been if made under those circumstances? I doubt it would have been as violent and graphic and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Anyhow KILLING SEASON is not nearly as bad as the user ratings would suggest and I think a second viewing will reveal a lot more of the psychological subtext. The question of morality and what all humans are capable during wartime is threaded throughout and both of these characters have their fair share on blood on their hands. I'm keen to hear more thoughts. Do you think it's been unfairly critiqued or am I being too generous?