Righteous Kill: Jon Avnet



Righteous Kill

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro are on screen together right now, and it’s awesome. I’m sitting here in this dark room watching a piece of movie history. These two heavy-hitting icons have so many amazing films, Oscar nods and defining characters between them, I wonder why they haven’t done more projects together. I am captivated by the action, intrigued by the dialog; I love seeing Pacino so volatile while DeNiro remains stoic.


I am watching Heat, and trying to forget about Righteous Kill.


I don’t need to give you a recap of either actor’s career; they speak for themselves. But as many films as they each have under their belt, Righteous Kill is only the third they’ve done together. Godfather II (1974) was their first, but DeNiro was stuck in flashbacks, and they never had any mutual screen time. Michael Mann’s masterpiece Heat (1995) brought the two titans into a coffee shop for a pivotal moment in the movie, and in cinematic history. It didn’t hurt that Michael Mann is a genius, and Heat was a spectacular film. So with so much mystique surrounding their interactions, why would either of them agree to do a weak serial killer movie with Jon Avnet? 


…It’s not rhetorical this time, I’m really asking you: Why?

Righteous Kill has a very simple and overdone premise: There is a killer going around capping the scum of the city and leaving poems on the bodies. Detectives Turk (DeNiro) and Rooster (Pacino) are on the case, and Turk is taking it personally. They team up with two other detectives (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) and Turk’s cop girlfriend (a naughty Carla Gugino), and the group starts thinking that the killer is a cop. Coincidence starts to pile up, and suspicion is thrown on Turk. It doesn’t help that the film starts with a taped confession by Turk.


See what I did there? I left the interesting stuff until the end, a little twist if you will. Not the best, but better than Russell Gewirtz’s weak-sauce ending. (Gewirtz’s only other writing credit is The Inside Man, so…yeah)


Jon Avnet is only six movies deep in his career, but that’s a 20 year span, and his best one was, seriously, Fried Green Tomatoes (1991).


Direction, camerawork, script, editing, soundtrack. All lacking and playing together like Sunnis and Shiites. Acting? Solid. When the biggest achievement behind the scenes is the casting lady, you know there’s a problem.

You might know Jon Avnet more from his last film, 88 Minutes, starring Al Pacino. I think Pacino is broadening his horizons. Avnet asked, he accepted, and his mutual desire with DeNiro to work together more brought on this sub-average conundrum.


I understand and appreciate that the two actors respect each other and want more projects together. I still believe that, especially after Heat, they need a little more discretion in the ones they pick. 


Ever heard of Trail of a Serial Killer, with Chris Penn and Michael Madsen? Of course not, I found that one in the $1 DVD section, where weak, ill-conceived serial films like Righteous Kill get overstocked.


Final Grade: C-


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