Killing Season is helmed by Marc Steven Johnson, an experienced action director and the esteemed writer of Grumpy Old Men (1993). Plus, it stars two skilled actors perfectly capable of carrying a movie.
Unfortunately it still isn’t good.
Part of the problem is a weak script, penned by Evan Daugherty. Emil Kovac (John Travolta) is frustratingly one-dimensional, and Benjamin Ford (Robert De Niro) is only marginally better developed.
The plot is even less well conceived, especially because of Benjamin’s unexplained decisions. Emil wants more than revenge, so it makes sense when he opts not to kill his prey. Much of Benjamin’s behavior, however, is entirely senseless. Worse, it often breaks character.
Ham-fisted WWE-style physical recoveries plague the plot, as well. As do foolish coincidences, like having Benjamin’s family arrive at the most inopportune moment.
The flaws do not stop with the script. The opening scene effectively sets the narrative’s tone, but Johnson takes too long to fulfill it, to finally start the inevitable showdown.
And John Travolta, normally a terrific actor, delivers an uneven performance. On the one hand, he captures Emil’s determination and conviction, not to mention his ambivalence toward his own survival. On the other hand, his Serbian accent is not good.
For all of that, Killing Season does not precisely fail. First, Johnson capitalizes on the film’s natural setting, at times highlighting the forest’s beauty with shots of wildlife and vegetation. At other times, he displays its lethality; think of the waterfall that intimidates the viewer almost as much as it does Benjamin, or the cliff over which the protagonist makes his final speech.
Moreover, despite an inconsistent accent of his own, Robert De Niro is in fine form, channeling his character’s sadness, as well as his resolve. Even though it breaks character, the salted lemonade scene is an acting tour de force, as are all of the times Benjamin refuses to grovel for mercy. De Niro proves that a skilled performer can layer a poorly written character.
Once the showdown begins, Killing Season makes some interesting observations about life after war.
Especially during the film’s climax when Johnson and Daugherty buck genre and deliver a somewhat unexpected resolution. In fact, save for a cheesy plot device involving shrapnel, the climax is easily the best moment in this otherwise flawed picture.
Which is to say Killing Season is not a good movie, but De Niro and above average thematic execution ensure it doesn’t entirely fail.