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Killing Season Blu-ray Review

Killing Season (2013) movie poster Killing Season

Theatrical Release: July 12, 2013 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Mark Steven Johnson / Writer: Evan Daugherty

Cast: Robert De Niro (Benjamin Ford), John Travolta (Emil Kovac), Milo Ventimiglia (Chris Ford), Elizabeth Olin (Sarah Ford), Diana Lyubenova (Elena), Kalin Sarmenov (Serbian), Stefan Shterev (Bar Customer)

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Robert De Niro and John Travolta have had strangely similar career arcs. Each of these Italian-Americans saw their film careers take off as young men in the 1970s. The 1980s had its ups and downs for them. Travolta experienced a mix of commercial highs and critical lows, while De Niro somewhat faded, save for a couple of well-received movies.
The 1990s offered each actor resurgence via an appearance in one of the decade's two most exalted crime dramas. For De Niro, that was a reunion with his frequent director Martin Scorsese on Goodfellas. For Travolta, it was Pulp Fiction, the first and perhaps still most significant instance of Quentin Tarantino reviving a diminished career.

Each actor enjoyed prominence in the wake of those movies, which suffered two of the Oscars' most subsequently questioned Best Picture losses in recent times. Then, each picked up an embarrassing credit in the middle of 2000: De Niro in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Travolta in the sci-fi disaster Battlefield Earth. While De Niro was able to rebound quickly (scoring a career high gross in Meet the Parents), he soon became criticized for an influx of poor projects that stood in contrast to his mostly sterling filmography up to that point. Travolta fell off of Hollywood's A-list and even a pair of comedy hits in 2007 (Wild Hogs, Hairspray) didn't return him to the leading man status he had enjoyed post-Pulp, pre-Battlefield.

Now, neither near the height of their popularity (but De Niro fresh off an Oscar-nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook), the actors take diagonal billing as they collaborate for the first time in Killing Season, an action thriller whose star power wasn't enough to put it in more than twelve theaters for a single week last month. It hits DVD and Blu-ray next week looking like a direct-to-video movie.

Robert De Niro makes use of his walkie talkie in "Killing Season." Sporting a chin curtain and a Serbian accent, John Travolta gets his hands in "Phenomenon" position.

The film opens with some facts and figures about the 1990s' Bosnian War. It is a conflict casting a long shadow over the contemporary events that make up the bulk of this film. Benjamin Ford (De Niro) is a divorced, retired U.S. Army colonel who now dabbles in wildlife photography on regular trips to his secluded cabin in the woods of Tennessee. One October afternoon, needing to replenish his ample supply of painkillers, Benjamin experiences some car troubles. Fortunately for him, chin-curtained Emil Kovac (Travolta) is there to help. Claiming to be Bosnian, Emil fixes the car and accepts an invitation back to Benjamin's cabin. There, a fast friendship seems to form, as Benjamin cooks a meal and the two enjoy Emil's alcohol and Benjamin's Johnny Cash records while waiting out a storm.

The next day, Benjamin takes up Emil on his offer to go hunting, bringing his fiberglass bow along. It soon becomes clear, however, that the two men aren't going to be aiming at elk, but one another. Emil reveals himself to be a Serbian with a score to settle; Benjamin put a bullet in his back and left him for dead back in 1995 when American forces intervened in the post-Yugoslavia struggles.

While it should take just one bullet or arrow to give Emil the vengeance he seeks, this is a full-length feature and, though quite long, the end credits scroll doesn't begin until around the 80-minute mark. That is ample time for the movie to get grisly and unleash the sadistic sides of these two men who are some distance from civilization. Emil strings Benjamin up by his calf, which he has split open with an arrow, demanding to hear the veteran's confession. When Benjamin gets free and takes Emil captive (as he inevitably does), he returns the favor by shooting an arrow through his cheeks and then waterboarding his fresh wounds with some extremely salty lemonade. I'm not making that up.

Emil (John Travolta) awaits a confession from Benjamin (Robert De Niro) who is strung upside down by his injured calf in "Killing Season."

What are the likes of De Niro and Travolta doing in a torture porn flick? That's a great question and one you can answer
by claiming that Killing Season is not that kind of movie. At least it's not that movie all the time. The gory imagery and two-way pain leave us with little sympathy for either character, which is problematic when the film wants to set that aside to get theological and philosophical, to ruminate on War's effects on these two men. While Emil seems altogether consumed by this revenge plot, Benjamin also has been divorced for nearly twenty years and a distant presence in the life of his son (Milo Ventimiglia), whose own infant son's baptism is being missed amidst this mano a mano forest fighting.

There are some decent ideas in the sophomore screenplay of Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman), but they are overshadowed by the attention to graphic carnage. De Niro's Southern accent comes and goes, mostly going. Travolta commits more fully to his Borat-esque voice, which never entirely stops seeming ridiculous. The chance to work with one another must have been one of the project's major selling points for the two leads who carry this film, though the apparent mutual respect doesn't yield any better than average chemistry.

Killing Season is another perplexing addition to the random résumé of director Mark Steven Johnson. The 48-year-old, who first garnered notice for writing Grumpy Old Men and its sequel, has since managed to disappoint moviegoers in a couple of genres, from superhero action (Daredevil, Ghost Rider) to romantic comedy (When in Rome). He hasn't had a well-received movie since the public found his tear-jerking directorial debut Simon Birch (a reworking of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany) relatively harmless after avoiding it in theaters. Killing Season is unlikely to win the filmmaker any new fans, but at least it won't raise the wrath of any Marvel fanboys.

It's tough to determine how much of the film's modest intrigue stems from the declining clout of its leading men and how much of it is the product of Johnson's direction. But it seems inevitable that the blink-and-miss super limited theatrical release will lower audience expectations to the point where some renters will agree, "Well, it wasn't that bad."

Millennium Entertainment brings Killing Season to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday.

Killing Season Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($28.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


Killing Season sports a digital video look that seems at odds with its primitive design. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is not as well defined as you'd like it be for a new film presented in 1080p and the film opts for unbecoming darkness for a good chunk of its runtime. The film uses very little of a Blu-ray Disc's capacity. The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is much better. It envelops you with thunderstorm sounds and slung arrows, getting loud on occasion but not to excess and never at the upsetting of the music/effects/dialogue balance.

Director Mark Steven Johnson says just a few words about his latest movie in "'Killing Season' Featurette." For some soldiers, war never ends, claims the 2.40:1 "Killing Season" theatrical trailer.


The Blu-ray's main bonus feature exhibits as much creativity as its title -- "Killing Season Featurette" -- suggests.
The 2-minute, 23-second standard-definition piece adds a few comments from Travolta, De Niro, and director Mark Steven Johnson and a couple of shots of behind-the-scenes footage to ordinary movie clips. Needless to say, it's promotional and inconsequential.

In addition, the Previews section kindly adds Killing Season's trailer (1:40, HD), which interestingly employs a wider 2.40:1 aspect ratio, to individual access to the disc-opening ones for Upside Down, Stuck in Love, The Iceman, and What Maisie Knew.

The menu plays a tender score excerpt and screen-filling clips while the listings utilize crosshair imagery. Millennium's Blu-ray authoring leaves something to be desired, as the disc lacks bookmarking and resuming capabilities. (At least the menu is quickly re-accessed.)

The plain blue keepcase features no reverse side artwork and contains no inserts, but it is topped by a cardboard slipcover reproducing the poster/cover artwork below.

Benjamin Ford (Robert De Niro) and Emil Kovac (John Travolta) find themselves in the same situation they faced back in 1995 during the Bosnian War.


Not as bad as the critical drubbing and virtually non-existent theatrical release suggest, Killing Season is nonetheless not as good as you want a film pitting Robert De Niro against John Travolta to be. Wince-inducing gore and torture pad this thin story to feature length, and they make it difficult to take the film's ideas about war remotely serious.

Millennium's Blu-ray is the basic but adequate platter you expect it to be and a disc you expect to see in bargain bins soon.

Buy Killing Season from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Olympus Has Fallen • Aftershock • Magic Magic • What Maisie Knew • The Hot Flashes • Evil Dead
Robert De Niro, 1970s-1990s: Taxi Driver • The Godfather Part II • Jackie Brown • Marvin's Room
Robert De Niro, 2000-Present: Silver Linings Playbook • Everybody's Fine • Freelancers • Stone • Stardust • Red Lights
John Travolta: Saturday Night Fever • Wild Hogs • Phenomenon • Ladder 49 • Old Dogs • The Thin Red Line • Bolt
The Hunger Games • Winter's Bone • Ghost Rider • Deathtrap • Cabin in the Woods • Apocalypse Now • Stand Up Guys

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Reviewed August 15, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Millennium Films, Corsan, Nu Image Productions, and Millennium Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.