×

Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘Killing Season’

Robert De Niro and John Travolta don't exactly shine in this cartoonishly violent drama about two troubled veterans of the Balkan wars.

With:
Robert De Niro, John Travolta. (English, Serbian dialogue)

The sight of Robert De Niro and John Travolta sharing the screen for the first time reps the one and only selling point of “Killing Season,” a cartoonishly violent drama routinely helmed by Mark Steven Johnson (“Daredevil”). The actors play troubled vets of the Balkan wars — De Niro a U.S. colonel, Travolta a member of the infamous Serbian Scorpions — who find that a literal and metaphorical spilling of guts is just the thing to exorcise their war demons. Millennium Entertainment will hedge its bets for this gory, arrow-in-cheek actioner with a simultaneous theatrical and VOD release Stateside on July 12.

Given that offensiveness massively outweighs entertainment in this two-hander, replete with graphically and gleefully depicted torture, it seems odd that the project attracted two stars of this caliber. Perhaps to justify his choice of a darker role, Travolta has been gamely supporting the pic with pre-release personal appearances in a variety of prestige venues, although it’s far from typical festival fare.

A quick prologue played under a pounding score capsulizes the genocide that took place in Bosnia in the 1990s, and implies that NATO forces carried out summary executions of newly captured Serbian war criminals after liberating an internment camp. Hoping to confront his would-be executioner is the loquacious Emil Kovacs (Travolta, sporting a hard-to-understand Eastern European accent, a shaved head and bizarre, unattractive facial hair), who was shot in the back by Col. Benjamin Ford (De Niro) and left for dead.

The tight-lipped Ford also bears physical and psychic wounds from his time in Bosnia; embittered and wracked with pain, he leaves a near-hermitlike existence and can’t get over his failed marriage. The only shooting he does these days is with his camera.

Clad in a pilgrim’s hood, carrying a staff and resembling a medieval-era Grim Reaper, Kovacs materializes one stormy night near Ford’s luxe cabin deep in the Appalachian mountains and gains entry by fixing the older man’s car. A slow, talky second-quarter setup establishes that the men share a taste for archery, Johnny Cash and Jagermeister. Gee, in another world they might have been friends.

The third quarter supplies ample doses of table-turning action and groan-inducing visual effects as Ford accompanies Kovacs on a hunting expedition, only to discover who’s meant to be the quarry. It’s the cinematic equivalent of those old “Spy vs. Spy” comicstrips in which two nearly identical antagonists use a variety of ruses and booby traps to inflict grievous bodily harm. Among the most gruesome assaults shown here are Ford being forced to insert a rope through his arrow-pierced calf, and a bound and bloody Kovacs essentially being waterboarded with a pitcher of salty lemonade.

Given the overall problems of tone, the pic’s erstwhile happy ending isn’t surprising even though it strikes one of many false notes here. Perhaps even Quentin Tarantino couldn’t have found the right tone for the screenplay’s mix of gratuitous violence and pretentious philosophizing about extenuating circumstances, confession and redemption.

The screenplay by Evan Daugherty (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), which was included on the 2008 Black List, originally was titled “Shrapnel,” was set in the 1970s, and centered around an American WWII vet with a piece of metal buried in his leg and a former Nazi officer; John McTiernan was attached to helm. Given the greater historical distance and the presence of a stronger director, that project may well have played better than what has made it to the screen.

Johnson seems more at ease capturing cliched shots of majestic nature than he is guiding his scenery-chewing leading players.  Moving with his trademark physical grace, Travolta offers a twinkly-eyed perf that undercuts his character’s rep as a cold-blooded killer. Although mostly registering as weary and exasperated, De Niro offers a few twinkles of his own in the over-the-top sequence that starts with him nailing Travolta’s profile to his front door with an arrow.

The glorious autumnal forests, fields, mountains and waterfalls of Georgia are shown to their best advantage. Tech credits are pro, despite Christopher Young’s grating, overinsistent score.

Karlovy Vary Film Review: 'Killing Season'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Special Event), June 29, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: (Belgium-U.S.) A Millennium Entertainment (in U.S.) release of a Millennium Films, Corsan presentation of a Corsan, Nu Image production. Produced by Paul Breuls, Ed Cathell III. Executive producers, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, John Thompson, Guy Tannahill. Co-executive producers, Linda Favila, Anson Downes. Co-producer, Veronique Huyghebaert. 

Crew: Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Screenplay, Evan Daugherty. Camera (Technicolor, HD), Peter Menzies Jr.; editor, Sean Albertson; music, Christopher Young; production designer, Kirk M. Petrucelli; art director, Thomas Minton; costume designer, Denise Wingate; visual effects supervisor, Evan Jacobs; stunt coordinator, Jeff Imada; sound (Dolby Digital); Petar Kralev, Adrian Rhodes.

With: Robert De Niro, John Travolta. (English, Serbian dialogue)

More Film

  • Picture Tree Intl. Picks Up Carolina

    Picture Tree Intl. Picks Up Carolina Hellsgård's 'Sunburned' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Picture Tree Intl. has acquired the rights to Carolina Hellsgård’s “Sunburned,” the follow-up feature to her zombie drama “Endzeit – Ever After.” PTI will be presenting first footage from the film, currently in post-production, at this year’s German Films Previews (July 3-6). “Sunburned” follows solitary teenager Claire on a family holiday in Spain. Neglected by [...]

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Amy Adams (left) as Lynne Cheney

    Film News Roundup: Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Sets Awards Show for Jan. 11

    In today’s film news roundup, the 2020 awards season schedule gets finalized; AFM will cover immersive content; “Murderous Trance” and “7 Days to Vegas” get acquired; and Kate Katzman has been added to “The Comeback Trail.” AWARDS DATE The Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild has set Jan. 11 as the date for its seventh [...]

  • Disney Pandora World Of Avatar, Lake

    The Piano Guys Play 'Avatar' Theme in Disney World (Watch)

    The YouTube sensation The Piano Guys have taken a trip to the world of Pandora for a performance of the theme to “Avatar.” Shot in the bioluminescent floating forest in Disney World, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and pianist Jon Schmidt put their spin on the score to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster. The video immerses the [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Billy Drago, 'Untouchables' Star, Dies at 73

    Billy Drago, who often played harming but chilling gangster roles and appeared in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” died Monday in Los Angeles of complications from a stroke. He was 73. The character actor played Al Capone’s henchman Frank Nitti in 1987’s “The Untouchables.” On TV series “Charmed,” he put [...]

  • Grant Sputore

    'I Am Mother' Director Tackles Margot Robbie-Produced Thriller 'Augmented'

    Warner Bros. has hired “I Am Mother” director Grant Sputore to helm the science-fiction thriller “Augmented” which Margot Robbie is producing, Variety has learned exclusively. Michael Lloyd Green is rewriting an original script by Mark Townend. Denise Di Novi and Tom Ackerley are also producing. Production companies are Robbie’s LuckyChap and Di Novi’s eponymous Di [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content