NetFlix Review #27: Killshot

The sad yet simple truth is this, my friends: by and large, villains are more interesting. They're mysterious, we want to know more about them. Of course we know why the hero wants to pull babies out of a burning orphanage, but why, WHY did that cackling madman set it on fire to begin with?? This issue hangs over Killshot like a cloud. The movie is filled with actors I enjoy, such as Tom Jane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Hal Holbrook. It also has Diane Lane in it, who I can generally take or leave. But all these people may as well just be window dressing, as Mickey Rourke towers over the proceedings as the cool-as-a-cucumber bad guy Armand "The Blackbird" Degas.

Even without the villain rule, the movie is bound to be ruled by Mickey Rourke, an actor I've loved for years. He's an undeniable presence, and a role like this suits him perfectly. Watching Blackbird amble through small Canadian towns quietly, coldly wreaking havoc isn't a terrible way to spend a couple hours. The problem is, the movie doesn't want us to just spend time with Blackbird. Blackbird's the bad guy, you see. That means we have to have good guys. So in come Tom Jane and Diane Lane, a couple going through a trial separation who have a run-in with Blackbird and escape alive, something Blackbird doesn't like to let happen. Whenever the movie focuses on the Jane/Lane couple, things grind to a halt. Which is a shame, as Tom Jane is an actor I continue to root for, although true stardom keeps juuuust eluding him.

The lack of coherence or interest in the relationship plot is interesting, as the director of this movie, John Madden (no, not THAT John Madden. If ONLY...) has previously done mostly relationship movies, like Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Proof and Shakespeare in Love. So it's weird that the relationship here felt so odd. A good deal of it is certainly the writing. Jane's character is a bland, good-natured rube and Lane's character obviously still loves him, but wants a separation, but gives us no actual reason for wanting to be separated. Tom Jane is a big, handsome man who comes over and fixes up her house even after she's kicked him out, only wants to be with her and is even trying to get new work so he can be the man he wants her to be. What, exactly, is her problem?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fares much better as a wild youngun' who The Blackbird takes under his wing (har har) because he reminds The Blackbird of his younger brother, who The Blackbird accidently killed a job gone wrong. Gordon-Levitt is easily one of the most entertaining and gifted actors of his generation. He's obviously having fun here, and whenever he's onscreen things get instantly better. He's also well-matched with Rourke, as Rourke's stoicism and Gordon-Levitt's manicness play well off each other. Plus, he tears a moose head off a wall, which is undeniably delightful.

The issue here, which spans the movie entire, is that it's a great set-up with no payoff. The way Gordon-Levitt and Rourke's relationship ends should be a great moment, but instead just kind of sits there onscreen because nothing really builds up to it. There's no reason for what happens to happen at that moment rather than any other moment because both characters are acting as they always act, in a situation just like situations they'd been in before. A similar moment happens in another Elmore Leonard adaptation, Jackie Brown, but it's handled much more deftly, and the moment really sings in that movie. There's a bit where Jane's character goes to get a new job like his wife wants him to, and he figures why not try and get a job at his wife's real estate company? It's a charmingly dunderheaded move with some good comic potential, but only results in Lane flatly laying it out, "You came looking for a job at MY company?" There's also a bit later in the movie where the couple are hiding out in the Witness Protection Program and while out with new friends Jane accidently calls Lane by her old name. He covers by saying her mother called her that name, Carmen, because she was such a good singer. This sets up a great deal of potential that is dispatched with quickly by Lane saying she won't sing and then that's the end of it. It's not that the movie is bad, it just doesn't even attempt any steps towards being great.

What it does do well, though, is quiet menace. The scenes where Rourke returns home to the Indian Reservation of his youth are pretty great. Everyone holds him at a distance, and its not certain whether they know what he does for a living, or whether they all remember something from his past that led him there. He shows up, and everyone is on edge. Rourke also has great moments with Gordon-Levitt's girlfriend, played by Rosario Dawson. Again, his motives and their relationship are unclear, and it keeps a taut, quiet tension throughout every scene.

The long and short of it is that it's a well-made, workmanlike thriller. There's no real surprises in the plotting, nor any exceptionally bravura moments, but the cast is roundly good, Rourke is great as always and Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to shine. It's better than your average DTV (or I suppose DTD now, as nothing really goes directly to video anymore, does it?), but I can also see why it didn't get a theatrical release.