Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 27, 2013)
In 1998, a cinematic pairing of Robert De Niro and John Travolta would’ve qualified as “A”-list material. In 2013? Not so much, as Killing Season got such a limited theatrical release that it essentially qualifies as “direct-to-video” fare.
That concept doesn’t fill me with much hope, but the star power involved intrigued me enough to plop Season into my Blu-ray player. A flashback shows us elements of the 1990s Bosnian War and the efforts of NATO forces in that area. One aspect of this conflict involves the execution of some Serbian prisoners.
The lone survivor, Emil Kovac (Travolta), stews for 18 years until he learns the identities of those who orchestrated these killings. With that evidence in hand, he declares that he’ll go “hunting” and we leap to the Appalachian Mountains, where retired Colonel Benjamin Ford (De Niro) leads a reclusive life; even when his son Chris (Milo Ventimiglia) invites Ford to his infant’s baptism, the former soldier declines.
When Ford’s truck breaks down, he encounters Kovac, a wanderer who claims to be a tourist on a sabbatical. After Kovac helps revive the vehicle, they part ways, but the arrival of a thunderstorm inspires Ford to invite the visitor into his home. The pair bond and Kovac asks Ford to accompany him on a hunting expedition the next day. As this develops, we learn about Kovac’s true intentions.
Kovac’s heavily telegraphed true intentions, that is. Season gets off to a bad start due to its 1990s flashback, as that sequence reveals too much about the Kovac character. Since we see him as one of the Serbian prisoners, we get a sense of his background before he shows up in America. This makes us suspicious of his motives from Minute One.
Without that opening, Season would’ve mustered a stronger sense of mystery. Perhaps the filmmakers felt they needed the prologue to set up tension, and I kind of sort of almost get that; since we feel from the get-go that Kovac desires vengeance, this adds a “ticking bomb” feel of sorts.
But whatever positives that contributes become outweighed by the lack of question about Kovac’s motives. When he reveals himself to Ford, wouldn’t this work better if it caught the audience by surprise as well? I think so, especially because our foreknowledge makes the preceding segments tedious; the long “bonding” sequence feels like pointless stalling.
Once Ford learns of Kovac’s intentions, we go into cat and mouse mode for much of the rest of the film. That sounds like an exciting proposition, as one might expect fireworks from the conflict between two notable actors.
Alas, no real drama results. The story attempts a seesaw path in which the man with the upper hand changes on a frequent basis, but rather than add suspense, this just becomes tiresome. We already essentially know who will “win” in the end, so all the back and forth lacks conviction.
Neither of the famous leads does much with their roles either. We get a battle of unconvincing accents from two actors who don’t seem especially excited to involve themselves in this project. While I won’t say Travolta or De Niro appears bored, I also can’t claim that they bring any zest to their parts. They show up, read their lines and go home.
Which is a shame, as I think Killing Season possesses some promise as a basic “mano-a-mano” drama. It just lacks the coherence and the thrust to fulfill its ambitions in that regard.