Righteous Kill: Review

Righteous Kill: Review

Righteous Kill: Review. By Robert Andrews.

Having rightfully earned a staggering 17 Academy Award nominations during their coveted careers, the sheer prospect of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino collaborating on screen has typically been met with eager anticipation. In the last 50 years, only 3 projects have succeeded in initiating an on-screen collaboration between Pacino and De Niro, following their respective contributions to Coppola’s Godfather 2 in 1974. Michael Mann would be the first director to reap the rewards of this undisputed partnership, thrusting Pacino and De Niro onto opposite sides of the law in his slick and stylish crime thriller, Heat.

24 years later, Martin Scorsese would eventually fulfill his own dream of uniting the pair in his gangster epic, The Irishman, with both projects drawing widespread acclaim and proving entirely worthy of the collaborative efforts of two Hollywood icons. In the 24 years between these two exceptional projects, De Niro and Pacino would mark their second collaboration in a far less successful endeavor. 2008’s Righteous Kill would prove entirely unworthy of the cast at its disposal, with the film’s disjointed narrative being marred by severely underdeveloped characters, the likes of whom are burdened by a tirade of expositional dialogue and a lack of meaningful on-screen direction.



The story of Righteous Kill follows two NYPD Detectives, Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino), who are investigating the emergence of a serial killer in the area. With the body count rising, the investigation soon manifests into a witch hunt, as evidence points toward the killer being a fellow officer of the law. The story is framed in a first-person perspective courtesy of De Niro’s character, who opens proceedings by confessing to 14 murders in cold blood.

Strangely enough, the film skips over the first 10 murders, failing to even mention the previous victims, rendering the inflated body count entirely irrelevant. The perplexity of the narrative doesn’t end there, as despite investigating the very murders he confessed to, Turk exhibits a bizarre lack of emotion during his time on each crime scene, which undermines the notion that we the audience are expected to believe that Turk is in fact, a killer on the loose. It seems as though the plot is ill- equipped to uphold the relevance of De Niro’s opening confession, as viewers would be forgiven for not being able to surmise any feasible whodunnit theory, due to the lack of developing leads in the case.

The killings themselves are often sporadic and exceptionally underwhelming in terms of execution. A select few dregs of society are typically introduced and killed in a matter of minutes, with these one-dimensional criminals proving unforgettable during the course of a frantically paced investigation. These flippant executions are often depicted in a series of jagged and grainy flashback sequences, which aren’t constructed in a way that builds mounting tension, as each murder culminates in an underwhelming series of gunshots. The implementation of rhyming obituaries that accompany each corpse forms the backbone of every forensic crime scene, as in the case of Righteous Kill, expositional tools play a major role in the film’s downfall.

Fans of Goodfellas would need little reminding of De Niro’s iconic smoking scene in the gangster classic, a scene that conveys the manipulative scheming of Jimmy Conway, which is achieved without a single line of dialogue being uttered. The same too could be said of Pacino’s internal processes in the likes of The Godfather and Scent of a Woman, as both men have proven themselves more than capable of conveying deep thoughts and emotions, without the need to indulge in revealing dialogue. Righteous Kill fails to provide its leading cast the means in which to express their character’s thoughts and desires, at least not in a manner that is entirely devoid of simplistic and revealing dialogue. Even when De Niro is afforded a moment to internally reflect during a scene, the reflection is inevitably interrupted by the arrival of voice-over dialogue, needlessly conveying thoughts and feelings that De Niro could express with a mere glance.

Whilst De Niro and Pacino were arguably beyond their prime years during this production, they certainly did their best to elevate the film beyond its mediocre standards. The charisma of both men and their unrivaled chemistry proves to be the film’s only redeeming factor, but even such infectious personalities aren’t capable of revamping a series of rigidly designed scenes. Both men are often confined to police formalities and crime scene procedures, rendering many scenes a star-studded adaptation of C.S.I. Characters are rarely afforded the opportunity to develop beyond the confines of the investigation, with the depth of De Niro’s character being limited to a series of rough sex acts he performs with a female colleague. The biggest compliment that could be afforded to both leading men is that they produced their best efforts in elevating Righteous Kill from an entirely unenjoyable film to a tolerable one at best.

With an estimated $60,000,000 budget at its disposal, many scenes seem entirely devoid of personality, partly due to a lack of ambition in scene composition and set design. The backdrop to each crime scene and NYPD office space proves entirely unremarkable and fails to inject any much-needed personality into a tirade of expositional story scenes. By comparing Righteous Kill with a crime drama like Killing Them Softly (a film renowned for its exceptional camera work and set design, which cost four times less to produce) you’d be forgiven for wondering if the $60,000,000 budget could have been better utilized to enrich these scenes.

The pacing of the entire film feels very frantic, not just in terms of editing, but also in terms of the progression and conclusion of its rather unhinged storyline. The story’s conclusion feels just as rushed as many of the scenes that preceded it and fails to sweep the mess of its perplexing narrative under the proverbial rug. The film’s final revelation raises more questions than it seeks to answer, drawing a close to a perplexing and underwhelming experience.

Of all the projects De Niro and Pacino could have collaborated on during the last 50 years, it is a mystery how the pair stumbled onto a project as uninspiring as Righteous Kill. Whilst the coveted duo did their best to elevate Righteous Kill beyond its mediocre standards, a flawed script and questionable direction ultimately rendered the film a colossal disappointment, wasting a rare opportunity to enjoy the collaborative efforts of two cinematic legends.


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