Much like his feature length team up with Al Pacino in Righteous Kill a few years ago, the recent career choices of Robert De Niro and his first time co-star here John Travolta make the prospect of a film sold on their pairing considerably less enticing than it would have decades ago (though Travolta’s up-and-down career doesn’t parallel De Niro’s in the way Pacino’s does). This is only added to by seeing that the film bringing them together is directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the man behind Marvel failures Daredevil and Ghost Rider.
The stars both play war veterans from the Bosnian conflict in the early nineties, De Niro an American former NATO colonel and Travolta a former Serbian soldier. De Niro now lives a secluded life in a cosy cabin up in the Appalachian Mountains, spending his days hunting elk, taking photos and listening to Johnny Cash records. Travolta has been searching for information on him for years in Belgrade, and upon finally discovering his identity, goes to the USA to track him down. Their initial meeting is pleasant, and they end up bonding over old hunting stories and shots of Jaeger, but we all know Travolta has an ulterior motive that he soon reveals; it’s not an elk he’s come all this way to hunt.
The central pair are the only actors present for the majority of the film, and their squaring off against each other makes up the bulk of it. It’s not a bad premise, and to its credit, the film is not a completely predictable affair either. As they trade blows (and arrows), the film takes a few unexpected turns, though nothing particularly notable. It does include a couple of surprisingly nasty torture scenes though, that become distracting in their excess.
If the film’s intention was to be an examination of the lasting effects this war had on these two individuals then it doesn’t find a great deal to say. I feel the Bosnian war is not one that gets featured in films much (though I was surprised to see that there have been quite a number made about it) and although it makes the backbone of this film, we only learn very brief snippets about it via speeches Travolta’s character makes, none of which are particularly insightful. While it could have easily been turned into one, especially given the current trend for them, this isn’t really another old man action film either. It keeps the focus on the characters, allowing their big moments to be verbal. Neither of the seasoned stars particularly convince in their more physical scenes anyway.
De Niro feels to be on autopilot yet again here, and while he’s never particularly bad, we know he’s capable of much more, plus he has the easier role. Travolta on the other hand puts in a lot more effort and shows us an entirely new character for him. He certainly looks odd, with his unusual facial hair design, and sounds it too. He’s gotten some criticism for his Serbian accent in this film, and it’s very unusual to hear it coming out of his mouth, but I’m not familiar enough with what a Serbian accent should sound like to really comment on its accuracy.
Killing Season is another unremarkable entry in the careers of its stars, it takes itself perhaps overly seriously, providing little insight on its subject matter, but it’s also a brisk, occasionally surprising, and perfectly watchable thriller.