‘Righteous’ Thriller

David Hohwald

When it comes to cop dramas, the market seems to be at its saturation point.

Between TV and film, there has been a recent excess supply of films within the genre that makes it difficult for any one show or movie in particular to stand out.

“Righteous Kill” manages to get the basics done well, and a solid cast headlined by two all-time greats help it out, but when it comes down to it, the newest film from director Jon Avnet fails to do much more than advertised and only shows flashes of its promise.

The big draw of “Righteous Kill” is the pairing of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino – and for good reason. In their primes, this may have been one of the best combinations ever assembled, but at this point in their respective careers, there has been a noticeable drop-off in their performances.

DeNiro manages to do reasonably well with his role and actually draws some genuine pathos out of the script, which is like drawing blood from a stone.

His understated dialogue and demeanor give some semblance of realism and generally manage to work.

Pacino, on the other hand, fails to distinguish his role as Rooster from any of his recent work. Full of braggadocio and not much more, he blusters through the film, giving guffaws and cocking his eyebrows.

This may have worked for Groucho Marx, but it just borders on ridiculous in an otherwise sober drama.

The side performances are decent, aside from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s latest foray into acting, and Carla Gugino and Brian Dennehy both have their moments of success, but the reigns of this film are firmly in the hands of DeNiro and Pacino.

The real weakness of “Righteous Kill” is not the performances, though, but rather the script.

When it comes to a well-established genre such as this one, steadfastness is no virtue; in fact, it is just another word for lack of originality.

The movie is almost entirely a by-the-numbers thriller built around one twist.

Now, if this one twist were particularly incredible or well-crafted, this sin would be forgivable, but the sad fact is that the big reveal of Avnet’s film is at best mildly surprising and at worst blatantly obvious.

The real trouble is the tools used to craft this twist. Writer Russell Gewirtz makes liberal use of narration and flashbacks, to the point where no rhythm gets established at all, devolving into a mess of loosely organized scenes.

When “Righteous Kill” manages to build a flow of events and dialogue it actually gets pretty good.

DeNiro in particular manages to shine at these points, and the result is pretty engrossing.

At times the script, through some solid direction by Avnet, succeeds in overcoming its problems and rises from an average cop drama to a good one.

This never lasts, though, due to the inherent flaws of the script.

While Avnet manages to scrounge some good material out of the movie, in general his hands-off direction harms the film.

Between Pacino flat-out waltzing through scenes to the stale delivery of 50 Cent, Avnet seems to have let his stars have their way with the film to its ultimate detriment.

When the actors are at their most focused is, unsurprisingly, when “Righteous Kill” is at its best.

Pairing Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, even at this point in their lives, should never be just average, but directionless directing and a script that is broken from the start manage to suck the life out of an already lifeless genre.

The film’s poor writing makes it seem like the only thing that it ends up killing is emotion within the script.

It may be worth a view to see two aging stars still give it a go, but there is little of substance here.