BY FAR the most notable - and already much noted - thing about new cop thriller Righteous Kill is that it stars Robert de Niro and Al Pacino.
Unlike their single brief, but charged, on-screen encounter in Heat in 1995, here they play NYPD detectives who have worked together as partners for decades. The storyline provides a superb opportunity for the audience to watch de Niro and Pacino square off against each other in a battle of contrasting acting styles.
De Niro’s character, nicknamed ‘Turk’, is gravely brutal, a realist cop who has somehow retained some principles. In contrast, Pacino’s ‘Rooster’ is both more volatile and less tense, injecting dark humour or cynicism into situations where Turk remains silent.
When a serial killer begins targeting civilians under police surveillance, suspicion falls on local police and the established trust between the two men begins to fray.
Unfortunately, the subtle, nuanced interaction between Turk and Rooster is wrapped up in a bombastic film package. The ludicrously titled Righteous Kill begins with a sequence showing Turk and Rooster competing at a firing range, leaving us in no doubt that this is a cop movie about men with guns.
The two women characters are caricatures, particularly Karen (Carla Gugino ), a hardbitten detective who apparently has an unhealthy emotional life. Similarly, gangster and entrepreneur Spider (Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent ) is another one-dimensional character.
As the film progresses, the interplay between characters begins to capture and hold our attention, but these key conversations and dramatic moments are consistently overshadowed by a series of utterly predictable action sequences.
The plot is involving, particularly close to the film’s end, but the overall impression is that director Jon Avnet attempts to do too much, resulting in an uneven and uncoordinated movie.
Yet it remains a pleasure to watch De Niro and Pacino at work. De Niro is opaque, uncompromisingly stolid next to Pacino, who in contrast appears almost mercurial.
De Niro is given the opportunity here to portray a character wrestling with his soul, something he does subtly to great effect. Pacino doesn’t give in here to his propensity for emphatic shouting, but instead conveys menace through a quieter but no less impassioned delivery.
Excellent support is provided by John Leguziamo as another detective working on the serial killer case and by perennial cinematic police chief Brian Dennehy. Gugino gamely tries to transcend the limits of her cliché ridden character, succeeding with some energy near the end, whereas 50 Cent can’t quite get beyond the limitations of his character on the page.