Righteous Kill

Movie Information

The Story: Two aging detectives go after a vigilante who’s knocking off criminals. The Lowdown: A largely pointless crime flick that’s never nearly as clever as it thinks it is, centered around a couple of phoned-in performances by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
Score:

Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Jon Avnet (88 Minutes)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg
Rated: R

Righteous Kill’s sole selling point is the teaming of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino—billed as “the two greatest actors of their generation” in the TV trailers (I’m curious where Peter O’Toole fits into this equation). What the film’s advertising fails to mention is that theirs isn’t the picture’s only reunion, as Pacino and director Jon Avnet worked together on the egregiously terrible 88 Minutes (2008).

The biggest disappointment involved with Righteous Kill isn’t that the two leads phone-in their performances (we don’t even get a patented Pacino shout-a-thon). It’s that the movie is never as unintentionally hilarious as 88 Minutes. There are no exploding cars, no babe-magnet octogenarians, no runaway fire trucks and no murderous lesbians. What the two movies do have in common is their convoluted, largely incoherent nature. Righteous Kill offers a plot that’s just as pointless and inane as that of 88 Minutes, but it’s wrapped up in a self-serious tone due to its “important” actors.

The movie follows two aging detectives, Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino)—one can only think the latter is so named due to his parrot-like haircut. The film starts with Turk’s confession to the crime of knocking off a handful of criminals vigilante-style, before flashing back in order to show how we got to this point. The movie’s insistence at attempting to be nonlinear causes all kinds of problems, not the least of which is Avnet’s inability to piece these flashbacks together coherently. It takes a good third of the movie just to get your bearings. On top of that, the idea that he and writer Russell Gewirtz—who somehow wrote Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006)—have given you the answer to the film’s big mystery in the first 10 minutes becomes such an obvious red herring that it’s none too difficult to figure out who the culprit really is. After that, it’s only a matter of the rest of the cast figuring it out a good 45 minutes after the audience already has.

Add in subplots about a couple of other detectives (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg), a kinky forensics detective (Carla Gugino) and her awkward sexual relationship with Turk and a shady club owner (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson)—all of which go nowhere—and the movie becomes an exercise in convoluted incoherence and a pale sketch of half-baked Scorsese by way of The Usual Suspects (1995).

But the real appeal is supposed to be De Niro and Pacino back together on screen for the first time since Michael Mann’s Heat (1995). And while they can be excellent actors when given some material to work with, the movie follows their recent trends of just cruising on their reputations and on-screen personas—which is especially disappointing after De Niro’s turn in Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust (2007). Neither seem more interested in anything other than a paycheck. I can’t blame them, however, since even at their best they couldn’t have saved this stinker of a film.

Avnet does the actors no favors, seeming to constantly dwell on the pair’s glory days during the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was a mistake he made in 88 Minutes as well, making Pacino a womanizing heartthrob who instead came across as a creepy old man. Righteous Kill opens with the two firing assault rifles and pumping iron. This, combined with the film’s tough-guy posturing, makes them seem like little kids playing dress up. While all the phony machismo that’s grafted onto the twosome leads to the film’s best unintentional laugh—featuring a Pacino body double jumping a banister and going down a hole—it’s ultimately tiresome. It’s a pity, too, since the two are worthy of better. But then again, their fans would probably like to see a little more prudence when picking their roles. Rated R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.

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18 thoughts on “Righteous Kill

  1. Louis

    …teaming of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino—billed as “the two greatest actors of their generation” in the TV trailers (I’m curious where Peter O’Toole fits into this equation).

    O’Toole doesn’t fit into the equation at all.

    O’Toole is 11 years older than De Niro and 8 years older than Pacino. O’Toole did his movie star turn in LAWRENCE of ARABIA in 1962, 10 and 11 years before THE GODFATHER AND MEAN STREETS, respectively. While the merits of O’Toole’s acting talents are unquestionable, we can’t consider him of the same generation as De Niro and Pacino.

    O’Toole came of thespian-age during the production code and De Niro and Pacino most definatively on the heels of the code’s then-recent mid-1960s extinction. Not to mention O’Toole is an accomplished stage actor, while De Niro and Pacino are icons of a 70′s era Hollywood in which creative control was in the hands of directors, not studio controlled packaging.

    Kudos for not giving another gimmicky high profile movie-stars “pairing” a free pass.

  2. Justin Souther

    O’Toole doesn’t fit into the equation at all.

    I’ll fully agree that the three of them do come from extremely dissimilar backgrounds, but in the end it really comes down to what one defines as a “generation.”

    I was going on that old, ill-defined 30 year window between parents and offspring idea, which would suit them. Not to mention they’ve all had overlapping — though divergent — careers.

  3. Louis

    …but in the end it really comes down to what one defines as a “generation.”

    Agreed — But that could be said of practically any noun in the English language.

    I trust that we can accept that there’s not much stimulating benefit to parsing the “ill-defined” semantics of the word generation as it relates to creativity? Further, let’s agree that we don’t want to perpetuate an empirical, sterile socialogical definition (and outdated)of what constitutes a generation in the context of the great subjective art form that is movies.

    For our ever-increasing cinematic money, the term generation as applied to actors, and acting styles, implies its members are cohorts whose creative perceptions and actions are influenced by commonly shared events, trends, and evolutions.

    To illustrate, Charlton Heston was born in 1923 and Marlon Brando in 1924. Would anybody actually conceive of considering them to be part of the same “generation?” Socialogically
    – yes, of course. In movie terms? God, I hope not. The two men had overlapping careers — but style-wise had nothing in common, despite being born one year apart.

    It’s the crucial differention between Terry Malloy vs. Moses. The latter performance pretended to part the red sea on screen, while the former turned out to do so in real life with an incredibly influential performance style.

    I suppose you could put it this way: Brando’s acting technique, not the year in which he was born, is what indicates the generational demarcation point to which he belongs — in historial terms.

    You got me thinking. I owe you a debt of gratitude.

  4. CarolineW

    Wow! I had no idea when we were sitting in the theater making fun of Robert De Niro’s sweatpants that this movie would inspire such weighty discourse!

    I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but what makes Peter O’Toole cooler (to me) than the “Righteous Kill” guys is that when he is being a parody of himself it always seems like he is actually aware he is doing it. I noticed that when my dad and I were watching “My Favorite Year” and also when I was watching “Caligula” (which, for the record, I totally DID NOT watch with my dad. OH MY GROSS)

  5. Justin Souther

    For our ever-increasing cinematic money, the term generation as applied to actors, and acting styles, implies its members are cohorts whose creative perceptions and actions are influenced by commonly shared events, trends, and evolutions.

    While you have a point, and just to add to the debate, isn’t the danger in this — if you can call it such — is that now you could call the Wayans Brothers the greatest actors of their “generation?” No one shares their background, really, or acting style (if a word such as acting can even be related to White Chicks), or the types of movies they make.

    In that case, I’d say the argument should instead be that qualifiers such as “greatest actor of such-and-such” (unless it’s related to something quantitative such as location, maybe) are ill-defined and ultimately pointless, especially when it comes from a television ad.

    Personally, I’ll settle for they can both be really good on occasion when they want to.

  6. Louis

    I appreciate the debating spirit as well.

    That said:

    First, I wouldn’t afford the Wayans Brothers the luxury of being referred to as actors (as you already astutely alluded to, vis-à-vis WHITE CHICKS). The term “actor” denotes a particular craftsmanship honed in association with interpreting a character. Actors have to have range.

    No one shares their background, really, or acting style (if a word such as acting can even be related to White Chicks), or the types of movies they make.

    Several comedic performers have similar backgrounds and “acting” styles to the Wayans Brothers. Apart from the staggering amount of money that the original SCARY MOVIE earned, is there something unique about their backgrounds? Isn’t IN LIVING COLOR where JIM CARREY was discovered?

    The Wayans are born out of the insular standup and the TV sketch comedy world (IN LIVING COLOR, THE WAYANS BROS.), not unlike many high profile alumni of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SECOND CITY, SCTV, etc. More importantly, thus far the Wayans have shown no interest in stepping outside their comedic comfort zones to explore beyond the boundaries of the narrow low-brow comedic path exclusively traveled.

    Some movie performers have demonstrated the talent to be considered comedians and actors. Take Jim Carrey or Robin Williams. While not particularly fond of him, I’d say Williams has earned the privilege of being considered an “actor” because he’s managed to evolve from being simply a kinetic stream-of-consciousness comedian (GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, NINE MONTHS) to an actor (AWAKENINGS, THE BIRDCAGE). And I don’t mean he’s an “actor” in the sense that he’s a comedian who’s convinced audiences of his ability to turn in a strictly “serious” performance. So much so that I would offer that Williams’ performance in THE BIRDCAGE (which teetered between dramatic and laugh-out-loud funny) was far tenderer than his cardboard and clichéd “dramatic” turn in GOOD WILL HUNTING. I point this out because, for all his irritating idiosyncrasies, Williams has proven he can act–and re-act–opposite legitimate, trained actors like Robert De Niro (before he sold his thespian soul to the devil) & Gene Hackman, etc., that he can propel “weighty” material, and that he can carry a movie (intermittently, of course. Have you seen RV?)

    On the other hand, does anybody consider what Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell is foisting on us as acting? Sure, each has shown “actor” glimpses (PUNCH DRUNK LOVE & STRANGER THAN FICTION).

    So, as it pertains to the Wayans Brothers, the question may be better phrased in this form: Could you call the Wayans Brothers the greatest comedians of their generation? I think it’s safe to say we already know the answer to that question.

    I suppose all this begs the questions, then who does belong in the Wayans Brothers’ so-called generation, right? Well, in looking up WHITE CHICKS on Netflix and Amazon–you know the thingy, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”?–it says, GUESS WHO (Ashton Kutcher, came out of TV situation comedy), HITCH (Will Smith, came out TV situation comedy), and, how convenient (the cinematic bookend to WHITE CHICKS), THE HOT CHICK (Rob Schneider, came out of TV sketch comedy). All things considered, this gives us a surprisingly fair representation of the starting point for considering the Wayans Brothers’ acting merits in the context of their “generation.”

  7. “More importantly, thus far the Wayans have shown no interest in stepping outside their comedic comfort zones to explore beyond the boundaries of the narrow low-brow comedic path exclusively traveled.”

    One of the Wayans was in REQUIEM OF A DREAM, about as far from comedy as you can get.

  8. Louis

    I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but what makes Peter O’Toole cooler (to me) than the “Righteous Kill” guys is that when he is being a parody of himself it always seems like he is actually aware he is doing it.

    Ummm–Have you seen ANALYZE THIS & ANALYZE THAT?
    If that’s not “wink-wink” parodying, what is? I didn’t say it was funny, but it’s De Niro’s knowing parody of his iconic “tough guy” screen persona.

    You are aware that De Niro was the voice of the shark mobster in SHARK TALE? He’s parodying himself there–to the point of desperation. To a lesser extent it’s reasonable to interpret his MEET THE PARENTS control-freak dad as a riff on the always-in-control-of-the-situation De Niro of pre MIDNIGHT RUN fame.

    How about Pacino as Big Boy Caprice in DICK TRACY? It’s his self-knowing nod to the over-the-top (Shakespearean) RICHARD III-like Pacino of the 70′s (DOG DAY AFTERNOON) and, especially, his 80′s Tony Montana (SCARFACE).

    One of the Wayans was in REQUIEM OF A DREAM, about as far from comedy as you can get.

    Yes — Oliver Hardy had a prominent role in THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN, a classically formulated, straight-laced western with John Wayne. By most accounts, a solid performance. It’s about as far from his comedic work as one half of Laurel & Hardy as is imaginable. Does anybody think of Westerns when the name Oliver Hardy is conjured up or of him being a dramatic actor with range?
    How about Adam Sandler in REIGN OVER ME or Chris Rock in I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE?

    I had the misfortune of sitting through REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, and I’m usually partial to movies that follow the exploits of drug addicts. Aside from the MTV level, Attention Deficit-inspired editing, pulsatingly grating soundtrack, and utterly repugnant characters, I’ve got no real complaints. Agreed, Marlon Wayans did make an attempt to step outside that aforementioned “comfort zone.” Based on the results, I’d say it was an misbegotten step in terms of insipid material. When was the last time anyone saw a semi-respected actor like Jennifer Connelly–she WAS in A BEAUTIFUL MIND only one year later–stoop to such a depraved, degrading position, literally and figuratively, on screen?

  9. Justin Souther

    While I’d never consider the Wayans’ the greatest anythings of anything, it’s good to know we now have some proof why they aren’t, other than they’re the Wayans.

    but what makes Peter O’Toole cooler (to me)

    I could make a list, too, and it’d start with The Ruling Class.

    Last night, Ken and I were talking about this, and we came up with proof that O’Toole is a greater actor than De Niro because, in Stardust, he got the role where he got to lay down the entire time.

    One of the Wayans was in REQUIEM OF A DREAM, about as far from comedy as you can get.

    So are their comedies.

  10. Ken Hanke

    but what makes Peter O’Toole cooler (to me)

    Being in Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, What’s New, Pussycat?, The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year and Venus is sufficient proof of coolness, I think.

    Now, I was busy with doing the Screening Room yesterday so I only barely followed this generational debate, but I really don’t think I can go with the idea that it has — as an assessment — any greater relevance than “actors of a similar age active during the same period.” It does say “greatest actors of their generation.” It doesn’t say “greatest actors of their genre-ation” or “greatest exponents of their school of acting.” As a result, yeah, to me it means that these guys are pretty much of the same generation as O’Toole. Pacino in The Godfather and O’Toole in The Ruling Class are the same year.

    Similarly, it’s hard to get away from Heston and Brando as being of the same generation. Just because each one is wildly overrated for different styles of acting won’t change the fact that they were acting and vying for the box office and awards at the same time. But then, Brando and O’Toole were up for Best Actor the same year for The Godfather and The Ruling Class respectively. (That Brando won still strikes me as the pinnacle of idiocy.)

    None of this is to say that this “of their generation” has any real meaning, but as a selling point, they clearly intend it to say to the viewer “two actors who are better than all their contemporaries.” Probably come as a shock to Jack Nicholson, too.

  11. Louis

    It does say “greatest actors of their generation.” It doesn’t say “greatest actors of their genre-ation” or “greatest exponents of their school of acting.” As a result, yeah, to me it means that these guys are pretty much of the same generation as O’Toole. Pacino in The Godfather and O’Toole in The Ruling Class are the same year.

    I’m guilty of “parsing” at this point…

    I can’t disagree with your well articulated summation regarding how you interpret the term “generation.” Let it be known my interpretation of the term is no more valuable or accurate than the next person’s.

    I can, however, respectively disagree with the conclusion that the staged-trained Peter O’Toole–11 & 8 years older than De Niro and Pacino, respectively, and born into a different country, a European culture, is of the same acting generation as De Niro and Pacino.

    With respect to acting, I suppose the aspect of applying the socialogical definition of a “generation,” to discuss the historical contributions of actors, that I have difficulty accepting is that it doesn’t invite identifying relevant demarcation points. How do we decide when the outdated 30-year “generation” point starts and ends from one so-called “generation” to the next? If we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of identifying and interpreting these “generational” acting/cinematic markers then isn’t the identified “generation” an amoebic-like rolling one? Put another way: Do we consider the last of the outdated silent pictures to be of the same film “generation” as the new and exciting talkies, even though they certainly overlapped–with some even having been made in the same year? The silent POINTS WEST was released in 1929. HELL’S ANGELS was released the very next year, 1930. Same generation?

    As a result, yeah, to me it means that these guys are pretty much of the same generation as O’Toole. Pacino in The Godfather and O’Toole in The Ruling Class are the same year.

    O’Toole was born in 1932 — he’s 11 years younger than Brian Keith, born in 1921. Brian Keith was in WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL in 1968, the same year of O’Toole’s THE LION IN WINTER.

    Would you argue that Peter O’Toole and Brian Keith are of the same “generation?”

  12. Louis

    But then, Brando and O’Toole were up for Best Actor the same year for The Godfather and The Ruling Class respectively.

    As was Cicely Tyson for Best Actress in SOUNDER. Tyson was born in 1933, only one year after O’Toole.

    Acting and vying for the box office and awards at the same time.

    Peter O’Toole and Cicely Tyson–same acting generation?

  13. Ken Hanke

    I can, however, respectively disagree with the conclusion that the staged-trained Peter O’Toole–11 & 8 years older than De Niro and Pacino, respectively, and born into a different country, a European culture, is of the same acting generation as De Niro and Pacino.

    I never said he was from the same school of acting, which is not the same thing as being of a generation. This really isn’t a sociological or artistic term, it’s simply a time frame. It has no other actual meaning. If you tell me that John Barrymore was the greatest Hamlet of his generation, all you’re telling me is that Barrymore was the finest Hamlet out of all those who were playing the character at that time. It has no deeper meaning.

    Am I saying that you’re wrong to factor in other things in any serious consideration of these actors? No. I’m merely saying that you’re factoring things into a simple statement that aren’t really a part of that statement.

    Do we consider the last of the outdated silent pictures to be of the same film “generation” as the new and exciting talkies, even though they certainly overlapped–with some even having been made in the same year? The silent POINTS WEST was released in 1929. HELL’S ANGELS was released the very next year, 1930. Same generation?

    Probably not the best choice of analogy, since a lot of the “outdated silent pictures” from the end of that era are a lot more accomplished than the “new and exciting talkies.” I’ll gladly put Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) up against any 1929 film — talkie or otherwise — and give the 1929 film a two star handicap and Sunrise will still win. And 1929 did produce a smattering of very good movies — The Love Parade, Applause, Thunderbolt, Bulldog Drummond, Disraeli — along with a lot of pretty awful ones. But as to whether Points West and Hell’s Angels are of the same generation (era seems more appropriate here), I’d say that in a sense they are since they’re both the product of the same transitional time. (Though what on God’s earth prompted you to pick a Hoot Gibson western is a little baffling.)

    Would you argue that Peter O’Toole and Brian Keith are of the same “generation?”

    Technically, they are, I suppose, but you’re taking the idea of contemporaries and throwing an entirely different spin onto it by tossing in an actor nobody is likely to call the greatest anything of any generation. (You could have made it Frankie Avalon in Skidoo.) The comparison of Brando and Heston made sense in that both were highly regarded at the same time — albeit for different reasons and probably by different people. That’s why Justin posing the O’Toole question — another highly regarded actor working at the same time as Pacino and DeNiro — has some relevance, if only in that it points out the silliness of the ad campaign’s claim. Posing the Keith/O’Toole question is largely meaningless, but then so — as a useful concept — is “the greatest actors of their generation.”

    I think you’re wanting the phrase itself to have a qualitative value that’s not, for me, inherent in it.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Peter O’Toole and Cicely Tyson–same acting generation?

    Actors acting in the same generation, yes. Same school of acting? No, probably not, but they are of the same basic, broader generation of actors. Again, I just think you’re applying the term in too focused a manner that won’t support it. You can throw in a third actor to the Brando-Heston mix with Alec Guinness and you’re still in the same basic generation — working at the same time — with three different styles/schools of acting.

    The thing for me is that we don’t really sit down at the end of a year and compile best of lists with genre or acting style qualifications, merely quality of work. Now, I won’t say we aren’t influenced by those factors because we are. For example, I’m not a big supporter of method acting and as a result I tend to not favor it, but at the same time I don’t think “pretty good for a gangster performance” or “a horror picture performance” or whatever.

  15. Louis

    …but at the same time I don’t think “pretty good for a gangster performance” or “a horror picture performance” or whatever.

    Then of what value is it to build your frame of reference?

  16. Ken Hanke

    Then of what value is it to build your frame of reference?

    A great performance ought to be a great performance regardless of genre, shouldn’t it? Do I really need to qualify that Bela Lugosi’s performance in The Black Cat (1934) is great as a performance in a horror movie? Granted, it would be a very odd performance in anything else, but does it actually need qualification? Or is it simply a great performance?

  17. Louis

    A great performance ought to be a great performance regardless of genre, shouldn’t it?

    I’m not so sure about that. I’m not arguing that the movie watching audience—or, better yet, I—qualify the merits of every performance seen against the relevant genre. It’s a mutually inclusive occurrence; the greater the performance the more I—or better yet, the movie watching audience—qualify the degree of greatness.

    “Ought” and is are two different animals. We can’t say that we view, react to, and interpret movies inside a vacuum. With a creative art form, everything’s relative—even what we decide is “great.” It has to be, otherwise we’re being disingenuous to the medium, the interpretation process, and, thus, ourselves. Where do our preferences, prejudices, biases, influences, etc. come from? There has to be a frame of reference. Take, for example, your comments about Ruby Dee regarding the quality of her performance in AMERICAN GANGSTER:

    “Ruby Dee as the matriarch of the
    Lucas clan manages to convey a sense
    of savvy dignity—something entirely
    attributable to the actress and not
    the script, which plants her squarely
    in the mold of loving gangster moms
    established by Beryl Mercer in
    William Wellman’s The Public Enemy
    back in 1931.”

    Are you not introducing—adeptly, I might add—a qualifying reference (and inviting the reader to do so as well) that you’re using as an instrument in which to frame Ms. Dee’s performance as a “loving gangster mom?” By doing so, you’ve qualified her performance in the gangster genre in an artistic and historical context.

    Do I really need to qualify that Bela Lugosi’s performance in The Black Cat (1934) is great as a performance in a horror movie?

    “Qualifying” is embedded in the viewer’s interpretation — implied if you will. So, no, you or I don’t need to consciously and necessarily point out the frame of reference for our, or the review reader’s, benefit. To do so is to try and illuminate the artistic meaning and value of the movie, and that can be a satisfying exercise. (Case and point).

    How do we know a great performance when we see one? Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re qualifying it against other horror movies, comedies, action adventures, etc.–inside, and maybe even outside, the relevant genre. The people who watch movies—not cinephiles, but the people who sustain cinematic commerce by buying the tickets and popcorn & soda and DVDs—do so based on genres, not actors or their merits of their acting performances. Then the judging of quality is done accordingly. When they do buy tickets because of a particular actor, say Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell, it’s because they know he’s going to deliver the “goods” (Ugggh!) within the context of that designated, expected (comedic) genre. You’ve pointed out—and I whole- heartedly agree—that you think there are few actors working today that “sell” tickets based on their individual merits. Why is that?

    When weighing Jack Nicholson’s performance in, say, CHINATOWN does history not view it in the context of film noir? Or, is it just as simple as (?), it’s a great performance. Period.

    Can a great performance transcend genre? Sure it can, and it’s a thing beauty to watch on the rare occasions when it does. But even then we recognize the gap between the relevant genre and the “great” performance as rarified air. That’s how we know it’s great. And, then, as the art form evolves, these “great” performances slowly become the new accepted frames of reference within the genre, by which future performances are qualified.

    Granted, it would be a very odd performance in anything else, but does it actually need qualification? Or is it simply a great performance?

    In a manner of speaking, you’re making my point. You’re acknowledging that the relevance of Lugosi’s performance is mitigated when viewed outside the context of the horror movie genre. Its maximum value rests within the horror movie genre, not as a stand-alone currency. That’s a compliment to the actor, not a mitigating factor.

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