Aug. 5, 2013
Killing Season is an interesting, and often suspenseful drama about
two men who years earlier were on opposite sides of a war and now engage each
other individually. The film stars Robert De Niro as Benjamin Ford and John
Travolta as Emil Kovac, whose paths crossed in 1995 in the Bosnian war. The film opens with a series of shots of the war,
leading to a line of Serbian men executed by American soldiers. Now Kovac pays
someone for information on Ford, saying he’s waited eighteen years for this and
is now going hunting. (And yes, Travolta does a Serbian accent.)
Ford meanwhile is living
alone in a cabin in a beautiful area. He hunts animals with a camera, and has
his own dark room (showing he relies mostly on himself). He rises early, and
stays fit by exercising and chopping wood. This is all really good at
establishing his character without dialogue.
Then suddenly his phone
rings. It’s his son Chris, asking if Ford will come down to his grandson’s
baptism. Ford says he can’t make it, and it’s a wonderfully sad moment, the
camera holding on De Niro. Chris says maybe he’ll take his son up there and
surprise him. Ford tells him he’d better call first. All of this establishes
that Ford is truly a loner at this point in his life, and that he’s wary of any
interactions, even those with the people he should feel closest to.
However, when he has car
troubles on the road from his cabin and Kovac is suddenly standing there next
to him, it doesn’t take long for him to accept Kovac’s offer of help. And soon
the two are back at Ford’s cabin, with Kovac getting him drunk and asking him
to tell war stories. Ford tells him the past is dead. Kovac says, “That’s the difference between you and me.
You drink to forget the past. I drink to remember.” Of course we know that
Kovac is there for one purpose, and it’s only a matter of time before things
Earlier Ford was
listening to Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town,” a great song, but
one that seems a bit too on the nose with lines like, “But I wouldn’t shoot without a cause.” Ford puts it on again while
Kovac is there. (And then later the song will come up again.) We learn that
Ford’s father taught him how to make bows and arrows. We also learn in this
scene that Ford has shrapnel in his leg. About not having it removed, he says,
“Sometimes things become part of you,
whether you like it or not.” All of this is setting the groundwork for what
is to come.
Kovac talks Ford into
going hunting the next morning. But of course Ford himself is the game. And
from there, it’s a power struggle that goes back and forth. Both of them are
strong; both are intelligent; both are prepared. It’s interesting, because
their one-on-one combat is a microcosm of war, with each side getting the upper
hand but then losing it, no one ever truly winning. I appreciate that in that
way it shows the futility of war.
De Niro and Travolta
really carry this film, as there are few moments with any other actors (or even
any extras). They are helped only really by some gorgeous shots of the
landscape. Both actors deliver good performances, with De Niro of course being
a master of knowing how to not oversell something.
There are some
weaknesses, however, in the film. There is a scene with the two of them in a
truck, which flips over multiple times yet somehow miraculously injures neither
of them. And just as in the way the Johnny Cash song is on-the-nose, there is another
element that is too perfect to feel true – that being an old, abandoned church
that they stumble upon in the woods. (Kovac is obsessed with getting Ford to
confess his sins.) There is even a shot of light streaming in from the window,
illuminating only Ford prone on the floor. That’s a bit much, a bit heavy-handed.
The DVD includes a very
brief (two and a half minutes) featurette on the film, with snippets of
interviews with Travolta, De Niro and director Mark Steven Johnson. Travolta
says that the film is an essay on war, that the two characters represent the
worst in war, crimes against humanity.
The DVD also includes the
Killing Season was written by Evan Daugherty and directed by Mark
Steven Johnson. It is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 20, 2013 through Millennium Entertainment.