MRR Review: "Killing Season"

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Robert Deniro(Meet the Parents) and John Travolta(Pulp Fiction) play Serbian War veterans. Travolta is out to settle an old score in a one on one battle to the death. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson(Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance)
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Movie Review: "Killing Season"

Rating: R (strong violence, some torture, and language, including some sexual references)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: July 12, 2013
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Genre: Action/Thriller

The opening scenes of "Killing Season" are quite haunting, showing atrocities of the Bosnian war. Emil Kovac (John Travolta) is seen kneeling in a shallow grave, about to be shot in the back of the head by an American executioner. It is implied that he dies, but he turns up several years later, ready to buy secret intel about the NATO soldiers who were on duty that day. One of those soldiers is Ben Ford (Robert De Niro), who has long since retired from active service. Now that Emil knows where Ben is, he can plot his revenge, believing that Ben left him for dead in that shallow grave.

Ben has moved to a remote part of the Appalachian Mountains, living in a well-appointed cabin and mostly keeping to himself. He is a borderline hermit, which is exactly what he wants since he is traumatized by what happened to him in Bosnia. He suffers from leg pain as a result of an injury, and he is out of medication. He jumps in his car to go into town, but the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Emil shows up, claiming to be a tourist, and happily helps Ben get his car back in working order. Ben is thankful and invites Emil back to his cabin, where they exchange stories about hunting, Johnny Cash, and drinking. They make plans to meet up the next morning to go hunting, but Emil has no desire to hunt deer.

Emil, who lied to Ben about who he really is, reveals himself and then promptly uses an arrow to shoot Ben in the leg. Hobbled and bleeding profusely, Ben takes off into the woods where the two men hunt each other. Emil finally captures Ben and puts a thin rope through his gaping wound, then hangs him upside down by the rope. It's a squeamish moment in this tense thriller, where each man gains an advantage over the other in a back-and-forth game where nobody wins and both men stand to lose everything.

Travolta and De Niro are playing a game of cat and mouse in "Killing Season," one where neither man is likely to have a happy ending. Even if one or both of them survive, they are likely to be haunted by the events that transpired for the rest of their lives. This makes the stakes of the game much higher than most, with Travolta and De Niro both acting their part well. Though there are supporting players, the vast majority of the film is just these two men, duking it out physically, mentally, and emotionally to see if one of them can remain standing in the end. These are two big movie stars sharing the screen together, and one might imagine that there isn't enough room for both. Thankfully, they have a good chemistry and don't seem to have any problems sharing nearly every scene together. There is no ego here, just two fantastic actors playing desperate men in a no-win situation.

Director Mark Steven Johnson knows the revenge fantasy genre well. He directed the first "Ghost Rider" in 2007 and also wrote the screenplay for that film, which was full of vengeful people. He doesn't write the screenplay here, relegating that duty to Evan Daugherty instead, but he still revels in the revenge fantasy. He knew exactly how to approach Emil, a very complex character with a scarred past, and got a great performance out of Travolta. He is also careful to include the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. With a movie where there are really only two main characters, he wisely decided to use the mountains and the surrounding wilderness as a third character, which is why so much of the action takes place outdoors.

With stunning cinematography and a cohesive story, "Killing Season" is a taut thriller featuring two of the better actors working today. Though there is some blood spillage in the form of a few torture scenes, the film relies more on drama and tension than gore to create its perilous mood. Nothing explodes, all chases are slow and on foot, and there is little in the way of fight scenes. Even without these usual action film tropes, "Killing Season" manages to be a thrilling action film that will keep the audience wondering who will still be standing when the end credits roll.

Rating: 3 out of 5