I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Killshot

tn_killshotDo you ever notice the movie posters where it shows the faces of all the leads but then the names above their heads don’t match? You see that and you understand that it was some legal thing, they were required to list them in that order by contract, there’s alot of politics involved. But then you wonder why they don’t plan for that reality ahead of time and make a composition with that in mind. I know it can be done. And KILLSHOT, the long-delayed-then-poorly-received-then-put-off-seeing-by-me-until-now Elmore Leonard adaptation from the director of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, does something rarer. It introduces the characters in the actual movie in credits order so the actor’s names can appear over them on screen. I was really impressed by that extra effort.

That sounds like something you might do in a really fun movie, but this is actually pretty dour. I complained about FREAKY DEAKY being too jokey, this one goes hard in the other direction, almost no humor. Or maybe it just seems that way ’cause it uses thriller music instead of something funky like alot of the Elmore Leonard pictures do. I have to admit I haven’t read this one so I don’t know if they blew it on capturing the tone, but as a movie I think it works. This one was a good surprise.

Does this poster look more like Leon the Professional or Desperado?
Does this poster look more like Leon the Professional or Desperado?

Mickey Rourke (DOUBLE TEAM) plays Armand “Black Bird” Degas, half-Native American hitman for the Toronto mafia. Joseph Gordon Levitt (GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA) plays Richie Nix, hopped up loose cannon idiot bank robber, with Elvis-loving, doll-collecting, ex-prison employee Rosario Dawson (DEATH PROOF) as his girlfriend. Thomas Jane (DEEP BLUE SEA) plays Wayne, an ironworker who’s getting demoted at work and looking for a new job at the same time as he’s trying to move out of his house because his real estate agent wife Carmen (Diane Lane, JUDGE DREDD) wants to separate. These characters will all come together through the age honored Elmore Leonard methods: odd coincidences and stupid mistakes.

Wayne’s not the only one having problems at the workplace. Black Bird retired after his little brother got killed on the job, but he gets pushed into one last one. When he kills the hooker who witnesses it the boss says she worked for him, refuses to pay and wants to kill him for it. Isn’t that some bullshit? Oughta be a union. While he’s on the run Black Bird ends up partnering with Nix in trying to extort a guy that works with Carmen at the real estate office, and they mistake Wayne for the guy because he happens to be in the office at the time looking for a job. (Shouldn’t have worn a tie, it turns out.) Next thing you know the estranged couple are working together trying to evade these maniacs who want to kill them just for having seen their faces.

Rourke does an accent that’s not my favorite, but the role takes advantage of most of his great qualities other than craziness and dog-owning. He’s scary and stoic, he quietly burns while yammering younger partner runs off at the mouth or goes too far, making Carmen take her clothes off, for example. Black Bird is too evil to be an anti-hero, but he’s serious about his code of honor. He stands up to the kid when he’s being an asshole to his girl. In a very authentic moment of denial she tries to ignore their argument, timidly averting her eyes and continuing to pleasantly talk about the pictures in her photo album. Pretend everything’s okay and everybody will go along with it, right?

Levitt is the one guy who gets to go mega, a fun performance in the period when he was using indie crime movies (THE LOOKOUT, SHADOWBOXER, HAVOC, BRICK) to show off his skills and transition from sitcom kid to actor taken seriously. The movie’s one big laugh for me is when he’s manically trashing a guy’s office and he grabs onto the antlers of a mounted deer head, pulls himself upside down and pushes his feet against the wall to pry the thing off. That’s something I bet had never been put on film before. It’s like a cartoon but I think he really did it.

It’s also a pretty good role for Jane. It uses his ruggedness, some of his anger, but mostly his aura of likability. He’s trying to give Carmen her distance but also wants to save his marriage, and is trying to be good to her. I’m sure it’s more involved in the book, but I like how the whole caper is a backdrop to their relationship. Just as they’re packing up to move away from each other they’re forced to go into witness protection and move into a new place together. Carmen’s understandable paranoia when alone causes them to spend more time together in ways they probly didn’t when they were together and didn’t know anything was wrong yet. The way police (and of course killers) treat her makes him stand up for her, angrily protest what they’re doing to “my wife!”

All these different sides of the story come together when he comes to her unexpectedly at the climax. It’s the emotional climax because of what it means for their relationship and it’s the suspense climax because the shit is going down and he has a much-needed gun in his truck.

They seem to have caught this cast all at the right times in their careers, and that especially goes for Lane, who’s had sort of a resurgence as a beautiful woman who doesn’t hide that she’s older than 22. She’s in an emotionally vulnerable spot but radiates intelligence. You can see why Wayne wants to patch things up but also why she might want to move on.

It’s funny, I was really anticipating this movie before it came out. That cast doing Elmore Leonard? Sign me up. But my signature was a lie. It got shelved, and that seemed like a bad sign even though we all know the Weinsteins have a long history of just throwing a dart into the movies they own and choosing one to randomly hide away and not release just to confuse and frustrate people. That’s one of their biggest passions besides getting Oscars, and I think they literally have a shelf in their office of the movies they own, on display. They only release one when they need more room on the shelf. By the time KILLSHOT finally got rotated onto video I heard bad things and I got spooked.

After FREAKY DEAKY though I figured what the hell, might as well get KILLSHOT over with too, find out what the deal was. Turns out I like it more than anybody. Maybe if I knew the book I’d be singing a different tune, but I think this captures the grim side of Leonard really well. It has a good set of characters, great cast, likable but flawed protagonists, scary and sometimes stupid villains who are compelling enough to carry long stretches of the story on their own. A nice, messy crime story that builds up until it falls over and explodes. And it’s got this grown up relationship drama at the center. I don’t know if they belong together, but I want them to figure it out.

I’m not saying this is OUT OF SIGHT or JACKIE BROWN level Leonard adaptation, but it’s better than most, solid and distinct and its mood and characters lingered in my mind long afterwards.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 at 12:31 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “Killshot”

  1. I heard in Denmark, they refer to KILLSHOT as “Lane & Jane: Rourke Hunters.” Not sure if it does Elmore Leonard right, but this is a great movie for Mickey Rourke fans — that weird accent is supposed to be half Native American, half Canadian, and it’s all nutso. I think you liked this movie a bit more than I did, but there’s definitely plenty of good about it. Rosario Dawson is GREAT in it. Too bad she only has a couple scenes.

  2. I´ve read most of the book and I don´t really remember it having any really funny moments in it. I also don´t remember why i did not finish it, since it was a pretty good read,like all Leonards. The psycotic Richie was the best part though. I remember a part of when the Rourke character asked him about the first person he killed and Richie said he did not remember when or who and vegas was just like “what the hell..this guy is seriously fucked up. how come you not remember the first time you killed someone?”.

    The couple had a really interesting dynamic, Richie being the twitchy impulsive psychotic and Vegas the more calm one. Both sociopaths of course but different kind. It is such a long time,about ten years since I ahve read it, so I can´t be sure about the plot or anything to give you any idea how different the adaptation is and my remembrance of it may be a bit off. But them going into witness protection seems familiar.

  3. Knox Harrington

    May 2nd, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Watched this a few years ago. Honestly can’t remember much, but I recall really liking the opening act. Think it lost a bit of steam for me towards the end. Felt like something in the story had gone missing or was being rushed. And I remember being fascinated by Rourke’s character.

    I know most people here didn’t enjoy Immortals as much as I did, but damn, was Rourke a great villain in that or what? Unashamedly evil and yet he still seemed like a character of substance and nuance and intellect. I thought he was great in it.

    I really hope he doesn’t fade away again. If so, he’ll just have to make another comeback with The Wrestler 2: WWE Edition, in which he teams up with Stone Cold to take down the Ayatollah once and for all, while also trying to win back his daughter’s trust. Could be the year that Steve Austin finally wins his Oscar.

  4. Agree, Vern. I avoided it because it had too many biggish names in it to have come and gone so quickly, rarely a good sign. (See “Powder Blue,” the most awesomely bad movie since “Shadowboxer.”) But then when I saw it was a Leonard adaptation I gave it a shot. Not great, but not a waste of time either.

  5. Also Vern, forgot to mention, when you started talking about the deal where poster images don’t align with billing order, I thought you were going to mention Killshot’s DVD design. It’s interesting they made the effort to sync the film credits with the actors’ appearances, when the DVD cover is one of the most egregious offenders of that misalignment thing: Mickey Rourke face is directly beneath “DIANE LANE,” and vice versa.

    http://www.silverdisc.com/images/74/796019820080.jpg

  6. I never understood what everyone’s problem with this movie was. I thought it was easily one of the better Leonard adaptations, as well as a solid if not particularly distinctive modern noir in its own right. I was glad that they didn’t go the GET SHORTY wacky shenanigans route because the book is definitely one of his more serious ones. It’s still got that casual vibe that all his work has, which they made a bit more melodramatic for the movie, particularly in the treatment of the marital problems, but it works. I’m also glad they didn’t go with funky 70s music for the score. It’s a suburban story, and funk is decidedly urban.

  7. CrustaceanHate

    May 2nd, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Yeah, I think I was one of the people who sent an email bugging you about this film when it was released on DVD. I don’t think it deserved the apocalyptically bad reviews, but Rourke was still flying high off the top turnbuckle from WRESTLER-mania and I guess a lot of the critics wanted to pile on at a perceived squandering of his career comeback.

  8. caruso_stalker217

    May 2nd, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    They blew this one big time. Completely gutted the Tom Jane/Diane Lane characters and made them bland, humorless, difficult to watch. Basically sucked every ounce of fun that was in the book and injected it with dreary garbage and a painfully overacting Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Which sucks, cuz I usually like that guy.

    Much to my fucking surprise, however, is that Rosario Dawson gives the best performance and is the only good thing to come out of this lifeless piece of cinema. And those who know me know that I think Dawson’s acting is usually garbage.

    As a human being I think she’s cool.

    Actor. Not so much.

  9. I love the book, Leonard was really on a roll back then, but I thought a film adaptation sounded like a terrible idea. The appeal of the book is the characters, who are excellent, but the story doesn’t really go too far. But a great read. Glad to hear the film is worth checking out.

  10. The original Paul

    May 5th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    “It uses thriller music instead of something funky like alot of the Elmore Leonard pictures do.”

    “I’m not saying this is OUT OF SIGHT level Leonard adaptation…”

    This is a weird review for me, because those two seemingly negative things that you’ve mentioned, Vern, actually do a better job of “selling me” on the movie than many of your positive comments. We will probably never see eye-to-eye on the “funky” music (I just find it unbearably corny in most cases), and as the only guy on the forum who dislikes “Out of Sight” intensely, saying this movie goes in a different direction is rather a positive thing for me. But, whether by accident or design, you’ve convinced me to check this one out if I get the opportunity.

    I saw “Trance” recently, and honestly it’s not worth a review. I mention this because Rosario Dawson was in it and was great (I don’t have any problems with her as an actress – I’ve always thought she was good). My friend liked it, I didn’t. Honestly it did a great job of putting me to sleep, which is ironic in a film about hypnotism, so… yeah. (I also recently had the opporunity of seeing the latest Ryan Gosling movie – “The Place in the Pines” I think it’s called – and made the hour’s drive to my arts cinema, only to find that they’d sold out. Second time that’s happened. First time was “Tree of Life”, which I’ve still not had a chance to see.)

  11. This is terrible news,according to the facebook page, Elmore leonard has passed away.

  12. My heart just stopped.

    Eulogy later. Grief now.

  13. You know, he did live to be 87 and gave us a shit ton of books for us to enjoy. Don’t weep for very long. Be glad we got him for as long as we did.

  14. Just as I was starting to read his books. RIP.

  15. I love KILLSHOT-THE NOVEL. But this movie was just dire. It actually made me question why I liked the book in the first place. It reveals the piece as a barebones, simplistic and shallow crimestory and it goes to show how much of Leonards language is so important to his tales. Because this movie is mostlyuninteresting. Which is the problem with most of the adaptations of his books. the language. The written word. It is part of the whole.

    The main protagonists are just boring here. I liked them in the novel, the way they are described, but now they have to have issues to be relatable, I guess and as a result just depressing.

    Not only that, but entire scenes look exactly lika I imagined them to be when I read the novel. Which is really strange. Interiors looked as I imagined them. There is no imagination involved in this production. It made me feel like a jerk, liking a book like KILLSHOT. Way to go, movie.

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