Two old guys try to kill each other, get tired, give up: “Killing Season”

August 18, 2013


Killing Season…um, wow. I genuinely don’t know where to begin with this film. I mean, it might just be easier to list what the film doesn’t screw up. For example, the vast majority of the film’s images are in focus. That’s something, right? Neither of the movie’s stars—in this case, Robert De Niro and John Travolta never actually break character and shout expletives at the director (though I’d bet my pancreas they did when the cameras were off), and, um…there’s an owl in it. It doesn’t do anything, but, hey…owl, right? Unfortunately, everything else about this film—the idea, the script, the direction, the acting—is just mind-blowingly horrible.

First off, do you remember the war in Bosnia back in 1998. Google it if you don’t, because it’s pretty important to this movie. De Niro plays US Army Colonel Benjamin Ford, who, as the movie begins, is leading a peacekeeping force and discovers an improvised mass-grave filled with bodies of Bosnian civilians. Ford has the Serbian military unit responsible for the slaughter rounded up and summarily executed, shooting one himself.

Years later, the dude he shot, Emil Kovac, is now John Travolta sporting this weird chinstrap beard that may be the most bizarre thing committed to celluloid in a long time. Oh, and he pays some other guy for the identity of his would-be executioner and sets out to take his revenge. Which, apparently, involves dressing up like Gandolf the Grey and bumming around the Appalachian Mountains.

This may be the carziest thing John Travolta has done...think about that a minute.

This may be the craziest thing John Travolta has done…think about that a minute.

See, Ford has retired into a semi-exile in the mountains and takes wildlife photos. He also cooks, eats, reads For Whom the Bell Tolls and sleeps. We know this because we follow Ford on his most-boring-day-ever routine for a ludicrously long time.  Which is great, because when I see that De Niro is in a movie I always hope we get the chance to just watch him reading a book in a comfy chair.

When Kovac finally finds Ford, he passes himself off as a wandering hunter/tourist, and Ford completely fails to recognize the dude he tried to murder, because, well shit, that beard. Anyway, they hang out for an evening, kill a bottle of Jaegermeister, and have what I’m sure the screenwriters think are deep, philosophical conversations, but are really just borderline incoherent.

If you like shades of brown and khaki, you're gonna love this flick.

If you like shades of brown and khaki, you’re gonna love this flick.

They next day, Kovac cajoles Ford into going hunting for elk, and when they do, he ambushes Ford with his bow and arrow. Ford is injured and Kovac tortures him in a truly cringe-inducing scene, demanding that he confess his crimes. Ford manages to get away, mend his injuries, and build his own bow, which he uses to horrifically injure Kovac…who he proceeds to torture, because, well, why not?

But then Kovac gets loose and gets the drop on Ford, but then Ford gets loose and gets the drop on Kovac and the movie pretty much just does this for about 45 minutes. It’s like the longest Spy vs. Spy comic ever. Finally, they just admit that, yeah, they were both pretty big dicks during that war and go their separate ways. Fin.

Hunting cap, compound bow, flannel...yeah all the ingredients for an action film

Hunting cap, compound bow, flannel…yeah all the ingredients for an action film

What Killing Season tries to do isn’t bad, per se. It wants to explore the corrosive effect war has on basic human morality, and paint a portrait of two men who’ve spent nearly two decades grappling with the damage to their souls. Problem is, it doesn’t explore those things at all. We have no more idea at the end of the film why these men did what they did than we had at the beginning. I mean, let’s not forget, a high-ranking officer abruptly commits a war crime (and orders his men to do the same), while a seemingly ordinary man joined a death squad and built implements of torture. We’re gonna need some explanations here. But we don’t get them.

But also:

* Okay, upfront we have to address age. De Niro would have been about 50 during the Bosnian War. Is this really the first guy they’d send into a combat operation?

* The second thing we have to address is language. As Kovac, John Travolta speaks with an accent that sounds like he’s imitating Walter Koenig doing Mr. Chekov. Additionally, he speaks English perfectly—not just fluently. He has a command of sentence structure, syntax, idioms, and even the abstract. I find it hard to believe that a guy who hasn’t lived for years in the US would be able to describe his homeland as a place “with in an invisible layer of blood encrusted upon its surface.”

* The beard. Holy shit, the beard.

It's just...what the hell is that?

It’s just…what the hell is that?

* Ford tortures Kovac by pouring lemonade in his wounds. It’s freshly-made lemonade as we see him squeezing the lemons, but…a full pitcher? That would take, like, at least an hour to squeeze all those lemons. Why would he do that when he could just pour salt in a pitcher of water and achieve the same thing?

* Ford might be southern. He also might be a New Yorker, depending upon what accent De Niro chooses to use at any given point in the movie.

* The beard…I’m sorry, I just can’t make my brain understand it.

* This movie has what has to be the longest discussion of the liabilities of fiberglass ever put on film.

* It also blatantly rips of The Hunted in its use of a Johnny Cash song to thwap us upside the head with its symbolism.

* Ford explains that he ordered the execution, because he knew that the Serbian death squad would just be dumped in a POW camp and then set free at the end of hostilities. Um…Colonel haven’t you ever at least heard of war crimes tribunals? I mean, that was a big reason NATO got involved in Bosnia.

* Ford sterilizes his leg injury by pissing on it. Now, I’m not sure if this is a real method of emergency first aid, and I’m sure not going to Google it (I don’t feel like wading through all those R. Kelly sites), but shown on screen it just looks like an old man pissing himself.

* Ford says, “I’ve fought in a lot of wars,” which is somewhat specious, since at his age he would have seen, what? Vietnam, maybe. Desert Storm. And uh…Panama?

* Then he says, “Bosnia was the worst. That one really got inside me.” Again, WTF?!?

* You know, when you get down to it, this movie is just a lot of scenes of two late-middle age dudes trying to beat each other up. Yeah, it’s about as exciting as it sounds.

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