Robert De Niro and Al Pacino as Detectives Turk and
Rooster respectively in Jon Avnet's "Righteous Kill". The acting titans
have much more screen time together and share the stage for only the second time
ever. (Photo: Overture Films)
THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Righteous Kill"
Killer Instinct: Murder By Numbers (And Red Herrings) For New York's Finest
Omar P.L. Moore/September 12, 2008
Five months ago Jon Avnet's "88 Minutes", which starred Al Pacino, crashed and
burned in the U.S. and Canada upon its theatrical debut. It was a
decrepit piece of celluloid, one of this year's worst films.
With Mr. Avnet's new film "Righteous Kill", which opened in theaters across
North America today, the good news is that it's a sterling improvement over the
director's previous disaster, although not as much an improvement as it should
be. In this New York story Mr. Pacino, who has his moments in this Big
Apple tale, has the added bonus of being paired with Robert De Niro on the big
screen (and for only the second time ever in their storied careers do they share
it), and their interplay works very well in a murder-mystery about a serial
killer who may or may not be lurking among the ranks of the New York Police
Russell Gewirtz, who wrote the terrific "Inside Man", is responsible for the
dialogue here and he gives Mr. Pacino and Mr. De Niro, two joined-at-the-hip
veteran police detectives of 30 years each some colorful and funny lines, but
the dynamics of the overall story are a little too uneven. There are
twists and granted, "Righteous Kill" keeps our interest, but only
intermittently. After a while the novelty of watching two acting titans
wears off and the film becomes a run-of-the mill police drama, with a red
herring or two inserted to keep us awake. In direction Mr. Avnet is guilty
of a little too much flash and dash here -- "Righteous Kill" is best described
as an indecisive film -- its tone is sometimes glitz and other times modest. It's as if Mr. Avnet was unsure what mood best fit his
drama. On the other hand, the mercurial pulse of "Righteous Kill" may just
be an extension of the mindset of one of the film's key characters, and in this
way the film's pace and tone would be entirely appropriate. The film is
all about the psyche of police officers and their approach to crime but it is as
much about the psyche of the filmmakers. Overall though what doesn't work
about the film is its lack of engagement, and the film's closing, while not
entirely unbelievable, seems forced and tacked on.
As for the film's supporting players, John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg are
junior detectives on the force who also eagerly want to solve the spate of
killings that have befuddled the department. Mr. Leguizamo's character has
some long-simmering resentment towards Turk (De Niro), whose volatility and
risible demeanor have earned him the title of prime suspect. In episodes
like this Mr. Gewirtz's script uses well-worn antagonist characters and
conflicts, and includes a forensics detective played by Carla Gugino ("American Gangster"), who has a thing for sex with cops, ex-cons and
other assorted riff-raff. The film and its script doesn't know what to do
with her -- yet given the kind of work Ms. Gugino's Karen Correlli character
does one might understand the displacement of her off-the-job behavior.
However, one doesn't understand the presence of Brian Dennehy here as an NYPD
lieutenant. He deserves better -- in fact all of the cast, including
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as a drug-dealing nightclub owner -- does. Mr. Dennehy is stale and wooden. His performance is far from the worst he's
ever given but he seems to belong more in a Sidney Lumet film than in Mr.
Avnet's. Mr. Lumet (now in his eighties) who last graced us with the
stirring "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" would have done a better job
crafting this film, shaping it into a skillful moral dilemma, supplying grit,
striking the right tone and making the events in "Righteous Kill" matter.
Instead, for much of the film Mr. Avnet is mainly preoccupied in making up for
the lost time (and films) that Mr. De Niro and Mr. Pacino haven't been in
together on screen, with multiple split screen shots of their characters and
some choice banter.
Mr. De Niro and Mr. Pacino don't mail in their performances here, but their
onscreen characters are biding time before the inevitable insanity of "Righteous
With: Trilby Glover and Melissa Leo.
"Righteous Kill" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for
violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use. The
film's running time is one hour and 40 minutes.
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2008. All Rights Reserved.