Word on the street is, don't see this movie. The film was not screened in advance for critics (rarely a good sign), and little advertising went into it, though the director, Jon Avnet and the film's producers, were banking on the idea the public would want to see two of our greatest living actors (and that is not an overstatement) appear in the same film.
The film has been bashed by the critics and many in the public. The estimated budget for the film is around $60 millions dollars. As of the date of this review, the film has grossed $28 million but with many new films coming out and a lack of public interest, the film will begin (if it hasn't already) to be lost in the shuffle. A shame.
Manohla Dargis of the NY Times considered the film "a clutter of recycled cop-movie and serial-killer film cliches." The L.A. Times wrote "Righteous Kill" is "a tricked-up and often turgid police thriller." The only positive review I came across was written by my favorite critic Michael Wilmington of moviecitynews.com who stated "the movie could have been better written and directed, but, in their cases, it could not be better acted." I agree.
That is largely what makes "Righteous Kill" worth seeing. Say what you will about the directing, cinematography, editing, or script but you cannot say the acting by De Niro and Pacino is bad. If anything the film should serve as a curiosity piece. These two great actors have only appeared in the 1995 film "Heat", where they had one scene together. Both were in "The Godfather Part II" but never in the same scene.
The film has De Niro and Pacino play two New York city detectives; Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino). They have been on the force many years. They joke between them there is 120 years of experience. They take their work serious. They are out to serve and protect. But sometimes criminals fall through the cracks and are let free. This happens when a child rapist and murderer is set free, when of the mother of the child defends the man who did it, her boyfriend. Turk and Rooster feel the system has failed them. They know the man is guilty and something must be done about that. Turk decides to plant evidence against the man for a crime he never committed. He does so with Rooster's approval.
Soon a serial killer is on the loose killing others who have managed to beat the system. Rooster thinks the murders may have been done by a cop, so a young team has been assigned to the case; Det. Perez (John Laguizamo) and Det. Riley (Donnie Wahlberg).
The film was written by Russell Gewirtz, who wrote Spike Lee's "Inside Man". The director, Avnet, released another film with Pacino this year, "88 Minutes". Avnet is not up to the task of directing these two icons and the script isn't up to their standards. It is a missed opportunity. Imagine if a more gifted director like Scorsese, Coppola or Sidney Lumet had been involved. A director who could get some great performances out of these stars.
But despite that the public has damned the film unfairly. It is not as bad as so many are making it out to be. I've noticed this trend over the years. The public and the critics simply over-hype some movies and send other ones unfairly to their death. Think of films such as "Town & Country", which was considered the worst film ever made when released. Or "The Brown Bunny". Boring? Sure. Worst film I've ever seen in my life? No.
The film works for me because it has a certain amount of raw energy. It has some grit. The visual style of the film reminds me of a little seen cop movie called "Narc" with Ray Liotta. And the performances are worth while. Pacino and De Niro don't turn in the greatest performances of their careers and in 20 years from now or 20 days from now, the film may be forgotten. Gone are the days when the public would look forward to seeing these icons. They aren't in movies such as "Taxi Driver" (who De Niro's character resembles in some ways. Mostly the idea of wanting to rid the world of scum.) and "GoodFellas" or "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico". Instead filmbuffs and movie fans want to see superhero movies and push aside these great actors. That's not right. They deserve better.