Long delayed and barely released — if, indeed, a fleeting five-theater run in Arizona actually qualifies as a release — “Killshot” earns points simply for not living down to expectations. Despite reports of disastrous previews, desperate reshoots and repeated re-editing, this surprisingly solid and mostly satisfying crime drama will play best with viewers who are attracted by its marquee cast but know little or nothing about its negative advance buzz. While it may be cold comfort to the talents involved, this ill-starred Weinstein Co. production should find an appreciative aud as a DVD rental and cable-TV staple.
Like the Elmore Leonard novel on which it’s based, “Killshot” offers the author’s trademark mix of vividly drawn characters, steadily intensifying suspense and a plotline forged from interlocking coincidences, crossed purposes and criminal behavior. But in sharp contrast to “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty” and some other popular pics based on the author’s works, this one skews more toward deadly seriousness than quirky eccentricity.
Mickey Rourke strikes an effective balance of purposeful menace and regretful melancholy as Armand “the Blackbird” Degas, a half-Native American employed as a contract killer for the Toronto mafia. (“Killshot,” it should be noted, was filmed before the actor’s recent “Wrestler” comeback.) Notorious for being a coolly efficient pro who always eliminates witnesses, Blackbird is rattled by the inadvertent death of a cohort — his younger brother — and is unemployed after killing one too many people during a mob assignment.
On the run and low on funds, Blackbird unwisely aligns himself with Richie Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a trigger-happy motormouth who somehow brings out the big brother in the hired killer. Unfortunately, Blackbird goes along for the ride when Richie attempts to extort $10,000 from a real estate broker. Even more unfortunately, two innocent bystanders — a sales agent (Diane Lane) and her estranged ironworker husband (Thomas Jane) — are witnesses to the botched shakedown.
Scattered throughout “Killshot” are telltale signs — abrupt transitions, uneven pacing, sudden arrivals and inexplicable departures — that the pic underwent some serious re-stitching in the editing room. (Reportedly, all traces of a key supporting character, a corrupt cop played by Johnny Knoxville, were eliminated during post-production.) Still, helmer John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) manages a deft balance of standard thriller elements and detailed characterization.
Pic is especially involving during scenes that focus on the sometimes affectionate, sometimes acrimonious relationship between the characters well played by Lane and Jane. On the verge of divorce before their close encounter with Blackbird and Richie, they find themselves tentatively rekindling their love. Madden and scripter Hossein Amini do well to linger on this subplot; the pic might have benefited had they lingered longer.
Gordon-Levitt goes just close enough to over-the-top as a cocksure braggart with a pathetically unjustified sense of self-worth. Rosario Dawson is OK as the lout’s live-in girlfriend, but it’s all too obvious her role was greatly diminished during editing. Hal Holbrook has even less screen time, but he makes every moment count as a victim who stoically accepts his fate when Blackbird comes to call.
Caleb Deschanel’s moody lensing is the pic’s outstanding tech value.