by Del Harvey
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This adaptation of a classic Elmore Leonard thriller delivers plenty of suspense and action - so why didn’t it fare well at the box office?
Mickey Rourke is The Blackbird, a professional hitman who lives by a few very important rules. For one, he doesn’t like to leave “loose ends,” which is his way of saying “witnesses.” He has survived and thrived for a very long time because no one has seen his face; and those who have aren’t around anymore. When “Bird” and his new partner, Richie (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), botch a robbery-extortion at a real estate agency, suddenly the Bird is faced with two very loose ends in the form of a semi-estranged couple Carmen (Diane Lane) and Wayne Colson (Thomas Jane). Now, living by the rules, the Bird and his new sidekick will hunt the young couple down and make sure they can never ID anyone, ever again.
But there’s another complication in this typically twisted Leonard thriller. The film opens with a flashback, of sorts, showing Bird and his younger brother pulling a hit for Bird’s primary employer, the Toronto Mafia. During the hit, Bird accidentally kills his younger brother. Then Bird is given one last job - to kill the head of the Toronto mob. The person requesting the hit is the mob boss’ own son, an over-anxious young man who’s a chip off the old block. When Bird takes out the old man, he also takes out the old man’s mistress, a beautiful woman who turns out to be the son’s mistress, also. So the Bird turns to petty crime in partnership with young, brash, impetuous Richie.
Director John Madden has previously directed the Academy award-winning Shakespeare in Love, Proof, and a variety of top BBC productions, including one of the Prime Suspect series and an episode of the Jeremy Brett-starred Sherlock Holmes series. So this choice for director should come as no surprise, given the content. What is surprising is that this film is a few years old and was held back from release for several years, unable to find a willing distributor.
I have no proof of this, but I believe a large part of this choice is not necessarily due to the quality of this particular film, but the fact that suspense films, in general, are not faring well at the box office. The one recent exception was Taken, starring Liam Neeson, which was touted as being “Bourne-like,” referring of course to the trio of popular action-suspense films featuring Matt Damon. That film featured an international cast in international locations and was fueled by the same concept which has propelled so many of the highly popular superhero films of today; revenge.
Unfortunately, Killshot is simply a complex thriller with strong characters, good dialogue, and good performances. This may be too much for today’s audiences, who have become used to seeing such fare rolled out across a season in programs like The Shield, Dexter, and Brotherhood. Why go to the theatre for this type of film when you know it will soon be on DVD and you can watch it in the relative comfort of your own home.
Still, Killshot boasts a rather impressive cast - Thomas Jane, Diane Lane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, and the oft-mentioned Mr. Rourke. And the actors turn in very good performances, perhaps none moreso than Rourke. Adopting an accent somewhere between Cajun and Native American, he brings just the right parts of emotion and depth to his character while avoiding becoming cliché. The targets, Thomas Jane and Diane Lane are a couple going through their own personal problems, including Lane’s unexplained need for space from her devoted husband.
Overall, the action is well photographed and those sequences carry the proper amount of intensity. Fans of action films will definitely be satisfied by this film, but lovers of intrigue and suspense will also be pleased by Killshot, a rather dark entry in the collection of Leonard novels adapted to the big screen.
This reviewer says give Killshot a chance.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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