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Righteous Kill (2008)

by on 2010/03/14

Righteous Kill tells the story of Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino), two veteran New York detectives working the case of the Poetry Killer.  A variety of factors lead to Turk himself being considered a suspect: his abrasive personality, his history with those involved, and the fact that the victims are all perceived to be wrongly exonerated predators themselves.

Right or wrong, this is a two-man show.  Strip away all the auxiliary roles, and you’re left with a highly focused study in ethics versus legalities, friendship, and devotion.  Everything else is decorative, trappings of a genre whose plot must include forensics, procedure, pressure, and puzzles.  All the stock roles are here too:  the blustering boss, the younger rivals, internal affairs, and a quicksand romance.

Despite such checklistism, I couldn’t fathom why Righteous Kill is so reviled.  Much has been made of the profound failure or, at best, missed opportunity that this film represents.  I can only guess that audiences had unreasonably high expectations.  Taken on its own merits, this is a perfectly serviceable crime thriller, and that’s no faint praise.

But if the story is pedestrian to an audience now spoiled by TV procedurals, at least it showed the performances in a positive relief.  In fact those performances — particularly the leads — were more subtle and considered than most of the over-the-top scene-chewing done in recent years.  Doubtful?  Just try to avoid the mugging and roaring in pieces like Analyze This, The Devil’s Advocate, Meet the Parents, and Ocean’s Thirteen.

I can’t help but wonder at the peril in giving audiences exactly what they wish for; sometimes they only think they know what they want.  Clearly impressed by Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 2, and teased by Michael Mann’s Heat, the public cried out for a new pairing of De Niro and Pacino.  That’s exactly what they got here, and I’m perplexed as to why it wasn’t enough.  As with most things, Righteous Kill has it pros and cons but, on balance, I was glad to see it.  A solid three stars gets a fourth, in part to balance the scales, but also because I know I’ll want to see it again.

* * * *

Rated R for adult situations, coarse language, substance abuse, and violence

101 minutes

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