Originally posted on 6-15-2009, this is a column I hope to resurrect one day soon.
By the time The Wrestler was released last year, my Netflix queue became scattered with random Mickey Rourke films of yesteryear. I’ve always liked Mickey Rourke, and his filmography is a pretty damn interesting place to wander around. The early, critically acclaimed pretty-boy stage is not short on underrated films with great Rourke performances (The Pope Of Greenwich Village, etc.), and between you and me, the trainwreck years were frequently insanely entertaining as well (Double Team, Bullet*, etc.) Then you get into Sin City, where Rourke made a huge impression, and Domino, where he was the best thing about a tough movie, which leads us to The Wrestler and the full-on critical redemption.
Before The Wrestler though, Rourke starred in a movie that surely at one point had critical raves in mind – a film adaptation of a 1989 novel by the legendary crime master Elmore Leonard, directed by John Madden, the man who bested (or robbed, depending on who you ask) Saving Private Ryan at the 1998 Oscars for Best Picture with Shakespeare In Love.
Killshot is the story of a career criminal (Rourke) looking to make one last score, aided by an unruly young apprentice (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but through an unfortunate wrong-place/wrong-time scenario, he becomes fixated on killing a couple who are in the process of separation (Diane Lane & Thomas Jane.) Killshot was shot and intended for release in 2006, but didn’t make it to daylight until this year, when it stealthily snuck onto the DVD shelves. Silent but deadly. What happened?
Killshot opens with a terrific song by the band Low and crystal cinematography by veteran DP Caleb Deschanel (yes, Zooey’s dad), both of which indicate more energy than the rest of the movie ultimately brings. That’s really the problem – Killshot is just dour. It’s the kind of movie that makes you appreciate what other movies do right, in this case the fellow Elmore Leonard adaptations Out Of Sight and Jackie Brown. What Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, respectively, brought to the table was an attention to character and a firmer grasp of tone than Killshot director John Madden ultimately achieves. Killshot is hardly unwatchable, but it doesn’t have the spark that we look for when Elmore Leonard’s name is involved.
Killshot might get the stone-faced killer angle down, but maybe that’s also what sinks it. The movie carries very little of Elmore Leonard’s sly sense of humor, and that filters down to the usually-great cast. Mickey Rourke can do badass in his sleep; he’s good enough here that you wish he’d have a similar role in a more light-hearted movie. He does, however, have to labor under the burden of playing both Native-American and Canadian, an acting demand which no one can probably do in their sleep. Gordon-Levitt is a good actor, but he plays his part at such heightened energy that it doesn’t fit the rest of the movie – he comes off as more annoying than not, which makes his character’s fate not a question of IF but of WHEN, if you catch my drift. Lane and Jane are solid actors who have been given very little to work with here: Scared and angry, respectively. Pretty thankless. (Although “Lane & Jane: Scared & Angry” is a good tagline for the poster.) Rosario Dawson, as a prison guard with a Graceland obsession, is the only actor in the cast who seems to be fully aware that she’s in an Elmore Leonard adaptation. I like Rosario a lot – no matter what quality the movie she’s appearing in, she’s always canny enough to strike the right tone. Unfortunately, she only gets about two scenes in Killshot.
I don’t really understand why Killshot was doomed to such an invisible release – I see worse movies released nationwide every other week. It may be a somewhat disappointing viewing experience, because you can see how all of the elements could have added up to a much snappier movie, but still, it’s very far from awful. It’s surely worth watching if you’re enough of a Mickey Rourke fan, and for one other reason at least: This movie gives you the vision of Diane Lane reaching for a shotgun, wearing a white tank top and panties on a cold night, and that’s really all you need to know to decide whether it’s worth risking your time on.