DVD Review: Killing Season (2013)

Killing Season DVD CoverDistributor: Lionsgate

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Starring: Robert De Niro, John Travolta, Milo Ventimiglia, Elizabeth Olin

Killing Season brings Hollywood giants Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver/Raging Bull) and John Travolta (Grease/Pulp Fiction) together on-screen for the first time in a story about two veterans of the Bosnian War who both carry the baggage of what they did in the conflict. Retired US Colonel Benjamin Ford (De Niro) lives a quiet life in a log cabin up in the hills, having swapped hunting rifles for a camera to photograph the wildlife. Ford still suffers from a leg injury caused by trapped shrapnel from the war and, along with keeping his distance from his son Chris (Milo Ventimiglia – Rocky Balboa), is still haunted by various demons.

As Ford leaves his cabin to go into town to get aspirin for his painful leg he comes across Emil Kovac (Travolta), a former Serbian soldier who claims he came to America to hunt wild animals and add new trophies to his collection. However, there is more to Kovac’s visit than is first apparent and Ford soon finds himself caught in a game of cat-and-mouse where old soldiers become intent on settling old scores.

With more than a passing nod to the brace of survival movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s like First Blood, Southern Comfort and Deliverance, Killing Season is a film that was probably a great idea on paper, and the casting of De Niro and Travolta probably added fuel to that excitement, but as a film it feels too stretched out and, possibly the worst crime of all, too generic in lots of aspects. The Bosnian War backstory makes a change to the usual Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan settings that normally get used but there isn’t really enough detail given about the conflict to give the story any more weight, and none of that is helped by the performance of John Travolta who spends the whole film speaking in a generic (that word again) Eastern European accent that makes Kovac feel like a spoof character from The Fast Show. His strange facial hair, odd hairline and shiny black buzz cut (congrats to the make-up department) don’t do much to soften the unintentional comedy element of his performance and, apart from his accent veering slightly into comedy Asian territory whenever he gets excited and starts shouting, there is very little in what he is doing to make you feel anything other than indifference towards him.

De Niro fares a lot better and actually seems to be giving a performance rather than simply coasting like he has done of late. However, the problem with his casting is that, given his age, even during the Bosnian War he would have been too old to be seeing combat. Kovac keeps reminding us that Ford was a Colonel, which would explain the age, but how many Colonels are out on the frontline, executing prisoners with a bullet to the head as we see Ford doing in a flashback? Nevertheless, De Niro does enough to make us care about Ford, even though we probably aren’t supposed to given the way he reacts to his family, and when the brown stuff hits the fan it is him we are rooting for.

But along with the character niggles, the main problem with Killing Season is that it runs out of steam fairly quickly once the action starts. After a lengthy scene where Ford and Kovac first meet and end up getting drunk and swapping war stories – which does have the feel of trying to replicate the De Niro/Pacino meeting from Heat but gets nowhere near – we then get to the turning point where Kovac’s intentions are made clear. The tables then turn and it is Ford who becomes the aggressor and there is still 40 minutes to go, so what happens? The tables turn again and the rest of the film plays out like the writing process stopped once the idea of switching roles had been made because nobody knew where to go with it, except for the obvious ending that is telegraphed way before it is played out.

Which may all sound a bit harsh but that isn’t completely the case because Killing Season is not that bad a film overall. De Niro’s performance is good enough to keep you invested and the two main torture scenes are both very well done with both actors conveying the pain that their characters are going through, but when put up against any of the three survival films mentioned previously it feels very lacking and almost derivative. There is something there and with a few different writing and directorial choices it could have been a lot more but the end result just doesn’t feel like it is enough, which is a shame.

Killing Season

Special Features: Making of featurette.

UK Release Date: 18th August 2014

Lionsgate UK – Website

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