Thursday, May 28, 2009

Catching Up #31: KILLSHOT by JOHN MADDEN

Yeah, I know - it's been fucking ages since the Nerd did a movie review on the site. No, it's not that I don't watch movies anymore because I've become a pretentious books-only douche (I usually watch a movie a day), it's just that I've been doing tiny 140 character reviews on my twitter account instead. That's usually enough to express how I feel about a movie and besides, there are hardly any crime movies coming out these days anyhow. That said, you should go see Next Day Air if it's still playing in your town. Surprisingly fun little crime flick.

But back to the topic at hand, watching Killshot last night and then afterward trying to form a decent tweet, I realized that that shit just wasn't going to work out. It was too complicated of an experience to really condense like that. So now that I got the backstory out of the way, let's get to meat, the blood, the fucking review already.

John Madden, the director of Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli's Mandolin, decided to branch out with this violent, fast-paced adaptation of the classic Elmore Leonard novel Killshot. His take on the material is kind of fucked up because he doesn't exactly get why people like Elmore Leonard, but he doesn't completely not get it, either. Its closest cousin would be John Frankenheimer's Fifty-Two Pickup starring Roy Scheider, a film that was primarily a dark thriller, but with enough funny moments thrown in so as not to completely piss off the Elmore Leonard fanatics. That's the approach Madden has gone with here.

But first, for those of you who haven't read it (which you should, like, fucking now because it is one of Leonard's best), a quick plot description. Retired hitman Armand "Blackbird" Degas (Mickey Rourke) takes up with dumbass punk Ricky Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to shake down a real estate agent for $20K. When they go to confront the real estate guy they confuse their target with Wayne Colson (Thomas Jane), a construction worker looking to get a job alongside his wife Carmen (Diane Lane). Wayne fights the two off without correcting them and the two criminals flee. But Carmen and Wayne have seen the Blackbird's face, and he never lets that shit go...

So the movie gets some important shit right. The Michigan locations are great, the entire "plot" is intact and handled well, the performances are all very good (with one exception I'll talk about later), and it is entertaining and involving, wrapping up in an hour and a half very nicely. All in all an agreeable movie, something that certainly deserved more of a theatrical run, that's for fucking sure. Plus, it's still pretty fucking funny in some spots, thankfully.

But if you have seen Out of Sight or Jackie Brown you know there's a better way to handle Leonard. And I'm not even saying that Killshot is as relaxed a book as Out of Sight and Rum Punch either. It's sure as shit more of a straight-forward thriller than those two books, but if Madden had just let certain character moments breathe a little more, let the story wander a few more minutes, he could have really had something special here. He gets it pretty much right when it comes to the interaction between Degas and Nix, letting them play off of each other nicely and letting them carry most of the movie even though they're the bad guys.

But when it comes to Wayne and Carmen's relationship, there is no reason we should really care about either of them. They get a couple of scenes together to explain the crisis that their marriage is facing, but that's it. We know next to nothing about the two characters, and they're our good guys! In the book, Carmen was pretty fun and cool, not just the scared wife with some hidden grit. She was our heroine and we wanted her to win. In the movie we only want her to win because she's not a bad person and the two fun characters most definitely fucking are bad people.

And don't get me started on Thomas fucking Jane. That guy is one of the worst actors working today. He is the biggest fucking ham we have. I remember seeing him as Todd Parker in Boogie Nights, the fucked up friend of Dirk and Reed's that fucks up the drug deal at Alfred Molina's house, and thinking that he was going to be the next big thing. He was exciting and funny and cool and alive, man.

But everything I've seen him in since has just made me fucking cringe.

He almost single-handedly ruined The Mist for me, a pretty good, very ballsy horror movie. Time and time again Jane straight up fucking fails to do the most basic job of movie acting - make me believe that he is a character in a story, not an actor playing a character. Most movies - even really shitty ones - you can just accept that the people in the movie are "the sheriff" or "the wife" right when they come on screen. Thomas Jane is often incapable of even that fucking level of acting. That's just fucking sheer incompetence. There are so many little scenes just completely ruined with his mugging. YOU'RE JUST PLAYING AN AVERAGE FUCKING JOE, DUDE! IT'S NOT THAT TOUGH OF A FUCKING JOB!

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah: What doesn't fucking work about Killshot. So there's the fact that they don't let character moments happen often enough, the pace should have been more chill, Thomas fucking Jane is in it, and then there's the fucking thriller music throughout the piece. Just constant fucking shitty soundtrack music. The dark, indistinguishable soundtrack that you hear on network cop shows all the time. Just fucking boring-ass music. And that would have been all right with me if the boring cop show soundtrack showed up every now and then, like during the suspense sequences or something, but all the fucking time? Just lazy and generic, man. Again, I'm not saying they should have been all source music like a Tarantino film on this bitch, or had a really cool and sexy soundtrack like Soderberg's Out of Sight but still, something other than the lazy fucking mess that's in my ears throughout.

So yeah, let's wrap this shit up. Killshot is a good movie that deserved to be seen in theatres. It's not one of the great Leonard adaptations that it so deserved to be, but it's not a travesty by any means. I'll bet there's a two hour cut somewhere that just fucking kicks ass, that allows the characters to hang out and distinguish themselves. That said, there's probably not a cut that doesn't have Thomas Jane in it...


Kent said...

Gotta wonder how it would've turned out back when Tarantino had the option and was going to make it. Oh well.

Thomas Jane was good in Boogie Nights. After that, not so much. He should take up method acting or something.

jedidiah ayres said...

Thomas Jane was pretty good as himself in Arrested Developement. I'm still excited to see KillShot. Love me some Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane, too. You ever see Abel F's Cat Chaser with Peter Weller? Not humorless either, but not exactly succeeding as a straight forward thriller either.

CrimeNerd said...

Kent -

QT's producer and partner Lawrence Bender still had a major hand in this one apparently. Wonder if Tarantino ever swung by the set...

Jed -

Haven't seen Cat Chaser. On the queue it goes!

I'll give you Arrested Development. But he didn't make a convincing bum on the show!

jedidiah ayres said...

Tarantino finished the film, but removed his name supposedly after massive re-shoots were done and Johnny Knoxville's role removed/reshot. That there's the rumor I heard.

CrimeNerd said...


I was bummed to hear Knoxville got cut. I thought he could have rocked that scuzzy FBI agent part. Those scenes between the agent and Carmen are completely missing from the film and they were some of my favorite parts in the novel. Would have helped beef up Lane's character in the film some too.