Review: Righteous Kill

Righteous Kill

The innocuous re-teaming of Seventies superstars Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, Righteous Kill, offers mild character intrigue in a modern morality potboiler. Probably a must for diehard fans of either actor, the movie, directed by Jon Avnet (Up Close and Personal) and written by Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man), is measurably less than that for anyone else.

Two seasoned police detectives (Messrs. DeNiro and Pacino, who have appeared on screen together only once in Heat) exchange witty lines throughout their investigations, carping about the hard work of homicide while watching helplessly as the judiciary lets the perpetrators go free. At some point, it’s clear that someone chooses to take the law into his—or her—hands and the culprit’s identity will be obvious to anyone who remains awake during these slow-moving proceedings.

That doesn’t mean this gritty caper is without a purpose. Watching both actors weave fine performances, and both are thankfully prevented from going over the top as they tend to do, becomes sort of the point of Righteous Kill, which gingerly recalls their previous crime thrillers The Godfather, Heat and Cruising.

The partners—DeNiro plays off-kilter while Pacino’s policeman is portrayed as harder—may implicate or inoculate one another from the looming vigilantism that appears to close around New York’s police department, with various rapists, thugs, and murderers getting pumped with bullets. Mr. DeNiro’s lover, played by the always efficient Carla Gugino, is a cop who likes rough sex, which darkens the mood and spins a psychologically textured conclusion.

Another couple of cops, played by John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg, is on the case, which may be related to one of Pacino’s and DeNiro’s earlier arrests. The mystery incorporates a priest, a police psychologist, and what one character calls moral certainty. Throw in hero pseudo-worship, a Russian bulldozer, a Harlem drug lord and a homosexual subtext and Righteous Kill almost goes deeper than the clear-cut betrayal of values that a cop gone bad suggests.

But not quite and the climax seems underwritten, reflecting the movie’s mixed message that the ends do not justify the means—most of the time. Though it generates considerably less suspense than their tense final scenes in Heat, these two top performers could have done better than they do in the tepid Righteous Kill, but it could have been worse.

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