Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Thomas Jane, Rosario Dawson, Hal Holbrook, Aldred Wesley Montoya, Don McManus, Lois Smith
Written by: Hossein Amini, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard
Directed by: John Madden
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 95
Date: 11/13/2008

Killshot (2009)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sigh Witnesses

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in the mid-1990s, Quentin Tarantino urged the Weinstein brothers to buy the movie rights to four Elmore Leonard novels: Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky, Bandits and Killshot. Tarantino made the first one as Jackie Brown (1997), but then seemed to lose interest in the others. So years later, the Weinsteins had an idea, though I'm not sure it was a good one. Rather than assign one of the stories to a crime or action director like Tarantino, they hired Oscar-nominee Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, The Four Feathers) to write the screenplay, and Oscar-nominee John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli's Mandolin) to direct. The Weinsteins spent a couple of years tweaking and editing their finished product, finally deciding on a limited, pathetic 2009 theatrical release. Now comes the no-frills DVD, practically limping into stores. To be sure, the film's biggest problem is not that it's a disaster, but that it's merely tepid and dull, which is exactly what anyone could have reasonably expected from Amini and Madden.

Mickey Rourke stars as a hired killer called "Blackbird" whose younger brother is dead and whose older brother is a lifer in prison. He takes on a job, hoping to retire, but angers his employer and doesn't get paid. That's when he meets a mean, small-time hustler called Richie Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); Richie has a plan to shake down real-estate agents by threatening to vandalize new homes. For some reason "Blackbird" goes along with this. Meanwhile Wayne Colson (Thomas Jane) shows up at a real-estate office looking for a job, and the bad guys mistake him for their mark. Before long, Richie and Blackbird are gunning for Wayne and his estranged wife Carmen (Diane Lane), hoping to eliminate all witnesses to their crimes.

Amini and Madden spend a lot of time developing Wayne and Carmen's relationship, including the time they spend in the witness protection program, posing as a problem-free married couple, but the film never gets below the surface, or uses the situation in any interesting way. Wayne seems like a nice guy, and it's not clear why Carmen wants to leave him. Also, it's not clear why the sad, clear-headed Blackbird would spend time with the volatile, frankly annoying Richie -- even though he's attracted to Richie's Elvis-obsessed girlfriend Donna (Rosario Dawson). Aside from all this ho-hum character development, the film also lacks in suspense and action, which tends to occur as an afterthought. The terrific actors are the only ones who inject any personality into the film, such as Hal Holbrook who appears in a good scene as "Blackbird's" target.

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