Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
US Rating: Rated R for Violence, Pervasive Language, Some Sexuality and Brief Drug Use.
Film Length: 103 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Subtitles: English for the deaf and hearing impaired and Spanish
Review Date: January 11, 2008
The Film - out of
In Micheal Mann’s HEAT, screen legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro shared screen time for the first time. Pacino was the veteran detective and De Niro the veteran criminal and across a table in a city diner they sat from each other. The scene was sublime. Two powerhouse presences performing characters with guarded confidence in a pissing contest with looks and calm words, posing threats that if they should be backed into it, they would not hesitate to bring the other down. They were incredible and powerful in a way only these two great actors could be. The thought of the pairing of Pacino and De Niro in a film has long been one worth salivating over and Righteous Kill was the project that offered the realization of that long appealing thought.
Righteous Kill is directed by Jon Avnet, working from a screenplay by Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man) and produced by no less than four executive producers and seven producers. It is a mixed bag of good performances, pedestrian crime notions and a generally good but unremarkable production. The script sparks in some moments and runs through all too familiar hoops during others, making this an entertaining but frustratingly uneven experience.
Al Pacino stars as Rooster and Robert De Niro stars as Turk, two veteran detectives working the mean streets of New York. Long time partners, Rooster and Turk have worked together for years but those years are wearing on them. When a serial killer begins slaying criminals and other seedy types who have escaped the long arm of the law, and smugly exist beyond that reach, the investigation leads them to consider that the vigilante may be on the force. The killer targets his victims for their crimes and leaves a poem calling card, which damns the criminal with rhyming prose. Worse still, those being killed have connections to Turk and Rooster, casting suspicion there way. What ensues is a crime procedural, a little plot misdirection and a missed opportunity to evaluate more deeply the morality of going beyond the law to seek and exact justice.
For all the years of expectation at seeing two of cinemas great icons team up, Righteous Kill is a disappointment. But remove the high expectation and what you are left with is actually a reasonably good film. It doesn’t completely succeed dramatically, but it uses an interesting storytelling technique and fills the plot with a mix of some familiar and some interesting characters and talented actors to portray them. The characters generally lack depth, which sacks the film of the chance to become something greater than the confines of such a well worn crime thriller trappings, but the strength of Pacino and De Niro help make up some of that ground.
Righteous Kill tries for street tough poignancy and comes close at times, but it adds so little new that it can’t help but frustrate the experience. The muddled execution, partially by design, also leaves clarity wanting. The film finds itself drifting during its second act before tightening up and speeding into what turns out to be a good, but not totally unsurprising third act and twist finale. The script is perhaps the most important of this film’s weaknesses. De Niro and Pacino get to chew up a few good scenes, but not enough worthy of their caliber. We don’t get the depth and weight of interplay that made their few brief scenes together so good in HEAT, and thus the missed opportunity hangs over the film.
The cast is good. De Niro is actually quite terrific at times playing the aged and angry detective, who appears to be coming apart at the seams and openly wears his frustration and fury at the inadequacies of the legal process. Less of a stretch is Pacino as Rooster; cocky, a little flippant and dedicated to his partner, he is harder to read by plays off De Niro well. There’s no doubt there is chemistry between these two great actors, but their banter doesn’t match the skills of their delivery. The lovely Carla Gugino (Sin City, Snake Eyes plays Karen Corelli. Her forensic detective with a penchant for rough sex is the most interesting of the supporting characters and she does well with the role. As younger detectives working the case, John Lequizamo (Moulan Rougeas Det. Simon Perez and Donnie Wahlberg (Saw II and IIIas Det. Ted Rileyare solid, if stock, characters. Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson portrays a shady nightclub owner/drug dealer, Spider. He does well, performing with surprising intensity during his first big scene. And lastly, Brian Dennehy (First Blood, F/X) plays Lieutenant Hingis who appropriately scolds and protects those under his command with his imposing figure.
Admittedly, Righteous Kill has its moments and keeps your interest through to the end, but the thought that an opportunity to create something truly remarkable, deep and dramatic has been missed remains.
Righteous Kill is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 in anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is good. Blacks are deep, detail is strong, and colors rich. Director Avnet likes to wash scenes in single or dominant colors which allow them to be vibrant at times. Flesh tones are good and, despite the daylight scenes being a little too bright (perhaps an artistic choice), the balance between light and dark in the film works. There is slight evidence of edge enhancement but not too distracting. The image is rather sharp, with softness lesser than your average DVD transfer and finer details such as stubble on faces and shadow lines are good for a non-High Definition release.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is better than expected. Bass is deep and healthy, surround effects good when used and directional effects work to create a good ambience. Gun shots zip across the speakers and the subwoofer rumbles quite often with traffic sounds and Edward Shearmur’s energetic score. Dialogue is clear in the center channel – overall this is a solid surround sound.
The Investigation: An In-Depth Look at Righteous Kill – (14:24) – Discussions on the genesis of the production, getting these two larger than life actors together and the experience of those around them when they do their thing in a scene.
Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Jon Avnet – Director Jon Avnet is at times subdued, a little quiet as he shares some of the reasoning behind artistic choices both within the frame and within the story. Not as revealing as the better commentaries out there, but worth a listen.
The Thin Blue Line: An Exploration of Cops & Criminals – (19:05) – This look at the police and criminal professions, with experts in criminology and psychology discussing the nature of those on both sides of the law does succinctly what the film tries to do. Quite a good special feature.
Theatrical Trailer – (2:30)
Righteous Kill may not be what you could hope for with this pairing of two of the greatest actors alive today, but it isn’t a complete loss. These actors, with enormous screen presence, unique and distinct natures and ability to carve out characters with tangible lives and personalities, make the best of what they have. How you will respond to the plot and story; the twist and tone I cannot say, but investing just over an hour and a half of your time to find out is worth it.