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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Righteous Kill (review)

Oldfellas on the Job

DeNiro and Pacino! Together again for the first time! Well, actually, yeah, that’s kinda the way it is. The Two Great Legends of American Filum(TM) had never appeared on screen together until they shared one searing but quick scene more than a decade ago in Heat. And they haven’t been together again till now, in Righteous Kill, where they get the whole buck-forty-five’s worth of running time to scream, aggressively emote, lash out violently, and be generally intense together as veteran NYPD officers.
And I do mean veteran. As in, like, the oldest street detectives in the history of New York’s Finest. DeNiro is 65, Pacino is 68, and they look it. Not just physically: spiritually, too. They’re exhausted. I’m not suggesting that they might not have great performances in them still — I’m suggesting that those great performances are not going to come in flicks in which they’re trying to pretend that they’re Bruce Willis. Man, even Bruce Willis is gettin’ too old for this shit.

It’s sad, honestly, but these two excellent actors come across as rather ridiculous here. DeNiro (Stardust, The Good Shepherd) seems embarrassed more than anything else to find his character, “Turk,” embroiled in a supposedly steamy, kinky affair with a coworker almost 30 years his junior (Carla Gugino: American Gangster, The Lookout) who gets off on violence. But at least DeNiro has the grace to look abashed, which is more than can be said about Pacino (Ocean’s Thirteen, Two for the Money), who cannot hope to pull off, with his character, “Rooster,” the kind of hip snark that the script is directing him to dish out… not that he doesn’t try. Like an extended joke about The Brady Bunch. And another about Underdog, fer pete’s sake. And a moment in which he corrects someone about how the term light-year is a measure of distance, not time. You’d hardly know this isn’t a Kevin Smith movie. Imagine your mother trying to convince you, in all earnestness, that Luke Skywalker is a war criminal. You’d be looking for a pod in the basement. It wouldn’t be normal.

Maybe the whole “thriller” aspect of the film would have worked if the two leads had been 40 instead of 140 — if they had been, instead, say, Donnie Wahlberg (Saw II, Dreamcatcher) and John Leguizamo (The Happening, Love in the Time of Cholera), who appear here as fellow cops with not enough to do and yet still, somehow, manage to be more intriguing that Turk and Rooster. But probably not. See, they’re all investigating a series of murders of skels and lowlifes and dregs that no one is gonna miss — rapists who get off on technicalities, that kind of human wastoid — and it looks like the serial killer is probably one of their brother cops. Actually, it looks like the killer is DeNiro, which isn’t a spoiler because right as the movie opens, we start seeing snippets of his videotaped confession interspersed with the snarling and scenery chewing and cop action.

But we know these kinds of movies. We know that the movie cannot possibly be giving us the identity of the killer right as the story opens. Right? (On the other hand, screenwriter Russell Gewirtz’s last movie was Inside Man, which also thought it was too clever by half and ended up, like this one, less than half as clever as it wanted to be.) Even so, it’s all too obvious from the get-go who the killer is — although I was wrong about certain motives, I’d sussed out all the important bits early on, and getting to the ending from there was certainly not half the fun, or any of the fun. Righteous Kill is so “constructed” a story that you can see the pieces coming together like clockwork… and you know how much fun it is to sit and watch a clock ticking, don’t you?

It’s about as much fun as watching actors who are past their sell-by date.


MPAA: rated R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • t6

    Ouch!

    You are in fine form. This review and the review for The Women…..very funny.

  • See, they’re all investigating a series of murders of skels and lowlifes and dregs that no one is gonna miss…
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    In short, it’s the world’s longest episode of Dexter.

    Nope, there’s no way we can be that lucky…

    Though it does seem funny how many of the few “new” movie ideas that aren’t coming from comic books appear to be inspired by cable TV…

  • MaryAnn

    I haven’t seen *Dexter,* but it does sound quite similar.

  • “Maybe the whole “thriller” aspect of the film would have worked if the two leads had been 40 instead of 140 — if they had been, instead, say, Donnie Wahlberg… and John Leguizamo…”

    that’s what i found myself thinking through a good bit of the movie — those characters were far more interesting — at least they were actually *there* through all their scenes… doing something with their characters. which, sadly, i did *not* get from de niro and pacino.

  • Hasimir Fenring

    Imagine your mother trying to convince you, in all earnestness, that Luke Skywalker is a war criminal. You’d be looking for a pod in the basement. It wouldn’t be normal.

    But it will be, eventually. It will be….

  • MaryAnn

    True. But it isn’t now.

  • Jigsy Q.

    The sad part is that DeNiro has done so many comedies recently that when I see him in a serious movie now it almost feels like watching a comedian trying to cross over into drama. I almost find myself thinking “Wow, that Meet the Fockers guy isn’t half bad as a serious actor!”

  • Phil Urich

    Wait, you haven’t seen Dexter? I think you really owe it to yourself to give it a gander; ignore the sensationalism around it, it’s the amazing acting and gutsy artistry that makes it (even the little touches like how sometimes characters will speak in Spanish, but no subtitles are provided…I think that speaks volumes about the difference in character between Dexter and something like Righteous Kill).

  • MaryAnn

    I’m sure *Dexter* is great — I’m not avoiding it out of anything other than lack of time. I can’t see everything, much as I would like to. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually.

  • Drew Ryce

    Maybe I am too rooted in the real world to enjoy noirs anymore.
    The part about police vigilantes that this film misses compleatly, is that the revelation that one half of this detective team is an evidence planting serial killer, will automatically throw every case they ever worked on into instant appeal mode. 30+ years of successful homicide investigations will suddenly, as one, come back from the prisons to overwhelm the DAs office.
    As an example, that awful child murderer that stated the whole cycle is going to get released and make a fortune off the city for his wrongful conviction/deprivation of civil rights lawsuit. (And no, the fact that he really did murder the little girl will be inadmissable at the civil trial.)
    I’m not holding out for total realism but at least if the filmakers are going for gritty they have to do better than this.

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