To say that stars Robert De Niro and John Travolta have divergent acting styles is obvious enough that it barely warrants mentioning. Yet, that’s often one of the pleasures of seeing two respected veterans team up. Those guys are great! So different! How’re they gonna pull that off?
Oddly, one of the problems with the casting in Killing Season is that someone chose the wrong villain. De Niro’s too old now to play Travolta’s role, but a few years back he could have killed as former Bosnian soldier Emil Kovac. He would have been paired with someone else, like Benjamin Ford. Even the sometimes-limpid writing might have perked up with a little more star chemistry. That’s not to say that Travolta and De Niro don’t act well together; there are some scenes, especially early in the film, where they don’t really sizzle or shine but make for reasonably good sparring partners. (OK. It’s just one scene, actually. And there’s some good writing in it. Sort of.)
However, there are some leaps one has to make in order to get some pleasure out of this film. Travolta isn’t known for his work with accents, and although he pulls it off well enough here, we can only hope he doesn’t try it in future films. There’s also the issue of the strange beard he wears through most of the picture; it makes him look like a tired, avuncular barn cat, and Kovac’s mastery of some idioms and confusion with others is inconsistent enough that it draws notice, especially because the character himself is aware that he’s confused by idioms and points it out in the pointless, self-conscious way so many things in this script are pointed out. (Confused? Get used to it if you’re gonna watch this flick.)
De Niro has a poor relationship with his son (Chris, played by Milo Ventimiglia) and we know this only because it’s portrayed in the most obvious manner possible. So often dialogue and subtext are one and the same here, and that relationship is not strong enough in the context of the story to warrant Ventimiglia and co-star Elizabeth Olin’s time on screen. (They trek all the way to Ben Ford’s cabin only to turn around when they think he’s not home! Later, we almost believe that Ben had to fly to wherever in the heck Chris and his wife live! What?) Ventimiglia’s presence would have been more powerful had his character remained entirely absent from the present action of the story. Or maybe even from the whole movie.
Oh yeah. What’s this Bosnian cat doing in Appalachia? (Appalachia, that’s where Ford lives. Way out, too.) Kovac’s on a hunting expedition. But he’s not hunting animals! He’s hunting the man (Ford) who nearly killed him in Bosnia. He’s peeved and he’ll stop at nothing to make sure he achieves his goal. Or at least he should. But he doesn’t. It’s really more of a torturous relationship, some back and forth wounding and punishment; these two adversaries (Kovac calls Ford “a worthy adversary”, like we haven’t heard that before) in such close proximity to each other but doing little to either protect or kill each other that you begin to wonder why they didn’t just settle it all with a tickle fight. It seriously might be more interesting to watch a couple of turtles cross a desolate highway than the “fight” sequences here.
Yeah, OK, there’s also the issue of De Niro’s character not really wanting to kill anything (even though he’s serving the hunting guide). But it’s odd that Benjamin Ford claims to have served in four wars and yet seems to suggest that Kovac would have been his first kill. (Big question mark there ‘cause it doesn’t make much sense but it really does seem like what we’re supposed to believe. But c’mon. The way the script is written we almost have to believe that this guy has never even swatted a mosquito. But he’s been in four wars. Mention that yet? Four.) But all of his reluctance to actually do away with Kovac only makes you wonder why Kovac didn’t just kill Ford in the first reel.
Then there’s the resolution of the plot and here’s the big surprise: There’s no killing. No, these guys pause for a joke that one of them (non-native speaker of English) and some touchy-feely stuff that could only be more disappointing if they had a life coach working them through their little conflict. The actual ending, in which De Niro goes to see his son (pointless) and Travolta pauses to have a shot with a barmaid (pointless, though he does have a rather nice full beard at that point), could only have been made worse by someone announcing that we were watching the Hallmark commercial that the total resolution of this movie is.
We’re disappointed in you, Bob and Johnny. But, after sitting all the way through this, we should really be disappointed in ourselves.
Extra material includes a Killing Season featurette, which is totally predictable and barely worth mentioning.