I don’t know when I first realized De Niro and Pacino had never been in a movie together (really together)–it was long before Heat; their pairing doesn’t exactly seem obvious (both were always leading men), but something about their acting pedigree just made it seem natural. For example, Pacino’s never made a film with Scorsese and nothing feels off about it. Righteous Kill is a kind of passive movie event, thirteen years after Heat, thirty-four after The Godfather: Part II. Is there a reason for another pairing? No. Does anything substantive come out of this one? No. Is there a good reason for using rhetorical questions? Well, I’m trying to stay positive.
The big problem with Righteous Kill is the script. Russell Gewirtz manages a surprise ending–one very similar, actually, in form to his Inside Man ending–but there’s nothing in between. The perfect screenwriter for Kill is, as I think about it, Richard Price. He would have done the aging detective (something Gewirtz avoids in one of the script’s stupider moves), he would have done the New York setting (something else Gewirtz avoids–I’m amazed none of the movie shot in Canada), and he would have done an actual mystery. Gewirtz’s trick ending depends on a narrative with a constant absence of suspense (Jon Avnet being a wonderful directorial accomplice for that feature). The trick ending’s kind of neat, the way Gewirtz pulls it off and all, but it’s still a hollow gimmick ending. The movie has no meat to it, which might be the point. Righteous Kill was rumored to be headed straight-to-DVD and there’s nothing about it, past the leads, to make it special. Avnet shoots it 2.35:1, but it’s Super 35… so they could have just as easily printed it for anamorphic DVD.
With the script so failing–it’s amusing in parts, but most of my time was spent trying to imagine how I’d experience if they’d just told a straight story–there’s not much the cast can do with it. De Niro phones in his typical performance and Pacino phones in his. They’re in the same room, both on the phone at the same time, but there’s no reference to their pairing and the novelty of it. Had they referenced Godfather and Heat, at least the self-awareness would earn them some slack. Of the two, Pacino has more visible fun. De Niro’s can’t hide his boredom.
The supporting cast, which seems great, really isn’t. Carla Gugino is goofy in the kind of role she always plays now. Both John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg are good. Brian Dennehy doesn’t work, mostly for the same age problems De Niro and Pacino have… it’s never believable these guys are still just detectives. The movie doesn’t acknowledge their age.
Alan Rosenberg shows up for a second and is, unfortunately, unimpressive. In a similarly small role, Melissa Leo is good. Trilby Glover is good in a small part… but Gewirtz neglects the character after a while.
With the last Pacino and Avnet pairing–88 Minutes–I bemoaned the state of Pacino’s career (I just hadn’t been seeing enough of his recent stuff, I’m sure). Righteous Kill will now be another bewildering entry on both he and De Niro’s filmographies. I keep thinking it should have been good (or better), but maybe not. Pacino and De Niro as old cops… eh.
If Price was busy, what about Mamet? Mamet could have directed too.
Directed by Jon Avnet; written by Russell Gewirtz; director of photography, Denis Lenoir; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Tracey Gallacher; produced by Avnet, Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Randall Emmett, Daniel M. Rosenberg, Alexandra Milchan, Rob Cowan and Lati Grobman; released by Overture Films.
Starring Robert De Niro (Turk), Al Pacino (Rooster), Curtis Jackson (Spider), Carla Gugino (Karen Corelli), John Leguizamo (Detective Perez), Donnie Wahlberg (Detective Riley), Brian Dennehy (Lieutenant Hingis), Trilby Glover (Jessica), Saidah Arrika Ekulona (Gwen Darvis), Alan Rosenberg (Stein), Sterling K. Brown (Rogers), Barry Primus (Prosky), Melissa Leo (Cheryl Brooks), Alan Blumenfeld (Martin Baum) and Oleg Taktarov (Yevgeny Mugalat).