DVD Release Date:  January 6, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  September 12, 2008
Rating:  R (for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  101 min.
Director:  Jon Avnet
Actors:  Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, 50 Cent, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy, Alan Rosenberg, Melissa Leo

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are two of the most revered actors of their generation. De Niro has starred in classic films such as Raging Bull and Goodfellas, while Pacino commanded the screen in The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon and Scarface. Both men starred in The Godfather II, but it wasn’t until director Michael Mann’s Heat that the men shared a scene. That cinematic moment was greeted with mixed reactions by critics back in 1995, but Heat has taken on the mantle of a classic in the years since, whetting filmgoers’ appetite for a future opportunity for these two titans to appear together again.

The actors have had their pick of projects and directors, and the list of filmmakers they’ve worked with—Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone, among others—is impressive. But with such prolific careers, both men have starred in their share of less than stellar films. Pacino’s recent run includes 88 Minutes, Two for the Road, and the infamous Gigli. De Niro’s output since the turn of the century includes such forgettable fare as 15 Minutes, The Score and Hide and Seek.

Although each actor still works with notable filmmakers, it might be rightly assumed that it would take a big-name director to unite them for a shared project. Turns out that director is Jon Avnet—not exactly a household name, nor a revered auteur on a par with the previously mentioned filmmakers. His previous film starring Pacino, 88 Minutes, is one of this year’s worst reviewed movies, while earlier Avnet-directed films Up Close and Personal and Fried Green Tomatoes met with a mixed reception at best.

Based on Avnet’s track record, the prognosis for Righteous Kill appeared grim. The final product exceeds those diminished expectations, but not by much. Workmanlike but effective, the film holds viewer interest and, just when viewers have resolved to accept it as a merely serviceable thriller, surprises us. But to what end?

Pacino is Rooster and De Niro is Turk, longtime New York detectives on the case of a serial killer whose trademark is the printed poems he leaves at the scene of each murder. The men are determined veterans who know how to solve cases, but Turk may be a bit too determined. He once verbally threatened a defendant freed on legal technicalities and, with the knowledge of his partner, orchestrated a frame job to ensure that a lowlife criminal didn’t escape justice.

Turk’s professional world spills over to his sex life. He engages in kinky role-playing with Karen (Carla Gugino), his girlfriend and fellow officer who gets aroused when she hears about police brutality.

Turk’s temper and impulsiveness are never in doubt. In the film’s opening minutes, we see him, in a grainy black-and-white videotape, confess to a series of killings. Righteous Kill then reveals the events leading up to the admission.

Rooster is Turk’s more religious partner, quoting sayings about “righteous” vengeance and defending his partner against accusations from another pair of officers (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) that Turk might be the serial killer. The resolution of the story suggests that the idea of a “righteous kill” is ironic—the product of someone who is morally compromised and misguided.

Though cleverly constructed, Righteous Kill will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many Christian viewers, who must endure scenes of intense violence and explicit (if brief) sexuality before the film’s central mystery is solved. By that point, the novelty of Pacino and De Niro sharing screen time has long worn off, never approaching the anticipated heights suggested by the caliber of the two Oscar-winning performers. Although this isn’t either actor’s worst work, there’s no single scene that matches the brief screen time De Niro and Pacino shared in Heat, a cinematic moment that holds out still unfulfilled promise. Those waiting for acting fireworks from these two performers will have to wait for their next joint appearance.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@earthlink.net.

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