When you get two Hollywood heavyweights facing off against each other in a movie it can only go one of two ways. Either its cinematic gold like John Travolta and Nic Cage in Face/Off or it’s an over blown over acted ego fest like or Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Righteous Kill.
The other issue with these highly paid and praised actor pairings is they never seem to happen when both stars are at their prime. Audiences had to wait till 1998 to see Robert De Niro and Al Pacino pit wits for real in Heat and until 2013 for Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s proper team up in Escape Plan and although both where worth the wait wouldn’t they have been even better a few decades earlier?
Action thriller Killing Season sees Robert De Niro and John Travolta working together for the first time in both their long careers playing veterans from the Bosnian War both from different sides of the conflict.
Battle scared emotionally as well as physically American Benjamin Ford (De Niro) has settled down in a remote mountain cabin avoiding all contact with the outside world including his own son (played by Milo Ventimiglia) and his new grandson who he has never seen.
On the other side of the world Emil Kovac (Travolta) has been searching for years to find the name of the solider who shot him and left him for dead in a ditch so as to reap revenge on the man he believes took his life.
Armed with the identity Kovac appears at Ford’s hut pretending to be a lost hunter out to bag himself a deer. Taking him into his home and his confidence the two strike up a friendship although Ford us utterly unaware of Kovac’s true intentions and the fact come the hunt the only target on the warped and wronged man’s mind will be him.
Although there is no doubt that both Travolta and De Niro have made some amazing films during their time in recent years they have also made quite a few mistakes. In many ways De Niro has taken a far greater fall than his colleague in Killing Season going from the intense dramatic roles of his peak such as Goodfellas and Taxi Driver to terrible forgettable sappy comedies such as The Big Wedding and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle with the standout and interesting roles very few and far between.
Alternatively Travolta lost his huge fame as a lovable leading man much earlier and after his gritty reinvention in Pulp Fiction he seems to have seized a bevy of strange roles (usually sporting some odd facial hair as he does here) which he has more than made his own. His turns in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, From Paris with Love and even the musical version of Hairspray are full of energy, engagement and commitment making him shine through whatever is thought of the rest of the movie.
The same dynamic appears in Killing Season with De Niro playing it safe pulling the same faces and slipping unintentionally into the same accent as he always does while Travolta full embraces his character and accent turning what would be a one dimensional baddie into someone far more likable and complex.
The film is helped along by the fact that it doesn’t play by the expected rules with writer Evan Daugherty (Divergent) and director by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider) taking the cat and mouse concept and toying with it allowing each character to be caught more than once and throwing in some horrifying torture scenes which expand not only the personalities of Ford and Kovac but blur the lines between good and bad demonstrating that with any war the pain and violence carry on long after the conflict has ended.
Packed with taught tension, nasty realistic gore and some great battles between the actors both physical and verbal Killing Season may have its faults but it is far from a failure as a film and offers up a thrilling ride that more than hits its target.