KILLING SEASON (2013) Fires Blanks

Killing Season poster

Streaming Video Review:  KILLING SEASON (2013)


Michael Arruda



Robert De Niro sure was busy this past year.


In 2013, he appeared in THE BIG WEDDING, THE FAMILY, LAST VEGAS, GRUDGE MATCH, had an uncredited bit in AMERICAN HUSTLE, and he starred in the subject of today’s column, KILLING SEASON, now available on Streaming Video.


KILLING SEASON opens in the 1990s during the Bosnian conflict as American forces capture a group of Serbian soldiers responsible for some pretty nasty atrocities.  Disturbed by what they have seen, the American soldiers take the law into their own hands and execute the Serbian fighters, but one of the Serbs escapes.


The action switches to present day where we meet the soldier Emil Kovac (John Travolta) who escaped from the firing squad.  Emil learns the identity of the officer who ordered the death of his fellow soldiers, Benjamin Ford (Robert De Niro) and travels to the United States to hunt him down.


Lucky for Emil, Ford has become somewhat of a hermit and lives in a cabin high up in the Appalachian Mountains.  Ford keeps in touch with his son Chris (Milo Ventimiglia) and his family, but that’s it.  Other than this, he’s all alone.  Emil couldn’t have asked for a better situation.


When Emil moves in and captures Ford, he doesn’t kill him.  Instead, he tortures him in an effort to make him confess his wartime sins, but Ford is a tough egg to crack and escapes.  The two men battle back and forth in the wilderness, each coming up with worse tortures for the other, until eventually they come to some unexpected realizations about themselves.


Yeah, right.


I had a lot of problems with this movie, even though for the most part, I enjoyed watching De Niro play the tough Benjamin Ford.  It was fun to see him play such a resilient character.  In addition, some of the scenes of torture were intense and not for the squeamish, and these scenes were well done.  However, the problems I had with this film far outweighed the good stuff.


Let’s start with the biggest problem with this one:  John Travolta as a Serbian soldier?  Are you kidding me?  Let me just say this again so you know you read correctly:  John Travolta is cast as a heavily ethnic Serbian soldier.  Why?


Why didn’t the filmmakers hire someone with a more appropriate ethnic background?  No offense to Travolta, but it really destroys any credibility this movie has.  Travolta never convinced me that he was the real deal.  Throughout the whole movie, Emil does not seem like a real person but like a Serbian character being played by an American actor.  It just doesn’t work.


I hate to say it, but Travolta’s accent is awful.  He sounds as if he’s starring in a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch.  I haven’t heard an accent this bad since Steve Martin attempted to be Inspector Clouseau.  Speaking of Martin, I don’t think he would have been any less convincing than Travolta had he played Emil.  It’s a laughable performance, unfortunately.


The make-up department didn’t help.  Travolta’s hair and beard look like they were painted on his head and face.


To make matters even worse, there’s barely anyone else in the movie besides De Niro and Travolta, so Travolta has no place to hide.  Basically, you have a movie about two main characters, and since one of these characters is completely unconvincing, that’s a huge problem with this film. 


Milo Ventimiglia from TV’s HEROES and MOB CITY plays De Niro’s son Chris.  It’s a small thankless role, and Ventimiglia isn’t allowed to do much with it.  He was much more memorable as Rocky Balboa’s son in ROCKY BALBOA (2006).


Interestingly enough, while Ventimiglia played De Niro’s son Chris here in KILLING SEASON, his co-star from MOB CITY Jon Bernthal played De Niro’s son in GRUDGE MATCH.  Not only that, but Ventimiglia played Sylvester Stallone’s son in ROCKY BALBOA.  Stallone, of course, co-starred with De Niro and Bernthal in GRUDGE MATCH.   Got all that?


The screenplay by Evan Daugherty isn’t very strong, nor is the direction by Mark Steven Johnson.  Some key scenes are handled awkwardly.  For example, in the opening execution scene, we don’t actually see Emil escape.  We sort of find out what happens later, but it’s all rather murky.


As a result, I never completely understood Emil’s motives.  Was he seeking revenge for the death of his fellow soldiers?  Perhaps, but the movie doesn’t make this clear.  It would have been different had we seen Ford tormenting Emil or ordering the death of the soldiers before Emil manages to escape, but we don’t.  In fact, we never clearly see Ford’s involvement in the execution.  A man with Emil’s conviction and drive needs a more compelling reason for his motives.  As it stands now, it seems like just an excuse to set the plot point in motion that Emil will hunt Ford.


The story just never wowed me, nor was the dialogue all that clever.  De Niro’s character was somewhat likable, mostly because he suffered the horrors of war and came away from the experience as a man who wanted no part of it anymore, but Travolta’s Emil was a poorly written character who was made even worse by Travolta’s strange performance.


Director Mark Steven Johnson achieves mixed results.  As I said, some of the torture sequences were effectively disturbing, but the film really lacks suspense and excitement.  When the film becomes a cat and mouse adventure in the wilderness between Ford and Emil, it falls unexpectedly flat.


Mark Steven Johnson also directed the Ben Affleck flop DAREDEVIL (2003), and KILLING SEASON isn’t much better.


When all is said and done, KILLING SEASON is a pretty lame attempt at an action thriller.  While I enjoyed De Niro’s performance as the gritty tough-as-nails Benjamin Ford, I couldn’t get past Travolta’s bizarre take on the Serbian soldier Emil.


KILLING SEASON has a 91 minute running time, but the end credits roll at the 81 minute mark.  This was actually a good thing. 


Mercifully, KILLING SEASON is a short season.



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