Righteous Kill (2008)

Rated: R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.
Length: 101 minutes
Grade: B-FBB=B-
Budget: $60 million
Box Office: $76 million (40 U.S., 36 Intl.)

Written by: Russell Gewirtz, who wrote Inside Man.
Directed by: Jon Avnet, (88 minutes, Red Corner, Fried Green Tomatoes)
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, 50 Cent, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, and Brian Dennehy.

Two long-time detectives are tasked to find a serial killer who is murdering the worst criminals in the city, despite them evading traditional law enforcement. When a second team is brought in to investigate, it begins to look like a cop is the vigilante.

Entertainment Value: B-
And I feel generous in not giving it a C. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then it’s possible I may ruin some of it for you in my review. I’ll try not to, but I can’t promise. This movie has great acting, good directing, and a fascinating set of characters. Hence, would be a pretty good cop mystery except for one thing: it’s too easy to figure it out. Now, other people I talked to said that they did not figure it out, so I guess not everyone had this problem. But given that DeNiro is shown in the very beginning confessing to all the crimes, the thing you absolutely have to start from is the premise that it’s not him, else why would they show you this? So, once it’s not him, who can it be? Granted, the why is pretty fascinating. But I thought they gave not only this clue but also the chess-playing clue so early that the endgame (sorry) was ruined within about 10 minutes. Ironically, I expected (or at least hoped) that it couldn’t be that simplistic. I was hoping for a version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma where one confesses and then the other confesses to protect him and double jeopardy immunizes them both. But no. It’s just as simple (and therefore predictable) as it seemed. Sadly. Nonetheless, I still have to give it a B- for being fairly good in spite of that and for the fact that not everyone figured it out, apparently.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence F, Language F, Illegality F
This is a movie about a cop being a vigilante who goes around killing the most depraved individuals in the city. Do I really need to catalog the problems here for you? If you don’t mind hard R movies, you won’t mind this. If you do, you will. While there isn’t very much (any?) actual nudity, there’s plenty of sex talk and perverse references because of some of the people involved, as well as a woman who likes to be hurt.

Significant Content: B
Being a cop can desensitize you to the evil which you have to encounter every day. The line between justice and evil can be easily stepped across, with disastrous results. We are always influencing other people, especially with our example, good and bad. Vigilantism might seem like the logical consequence of opposing evil, but it is not.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
There are lots of interesting themes here regarding the issue of vigilantism and justice. Also, one of the main issues is the loss of faith when we see those we look to for guidance betraying our expectations of them. Other things to talk about here are the superior intellect of Pacino compared to DeNiro and others and how that plays out in the movie thematically.

Discussion Questions:
~Is Turk a “good man?” Why or why not?
~To what degree do you find yourself troubled by the vigilantism of this movie? Compare it to other wrongdoings by the police to figure out how much it offends your sense
~A common argument pattern is called the “slippery slope,” where the idea is that one step in the wrong direction can lead you to slide down a slope that’s too slippery to prevent the slide to catastrophe. In what way does this movie show this concept? Does it matter who takes the first step?
~Is there anyone in your life who has the capacity to really harm your faith or beliefs if they turn out to be corrupt or violate the expectations you have for them? What does this movie have to say about the danger of investing too much in even decent people? What does it have to say about the importance of being a good example to others?
~Are smart people more prone to pride? How are intelligence and pride factors in this movie?
When the psychiatrist says that the killer wants to be caught, what does he mean, and why? Can an artist get acclaim and appreciation without publishing his work?
~Why would someone claim that killing bad guys offered him the only real satisfaction in his life? What does this say about him?
~In the discussion when they mention Ted Williams’s .406 average, what point are they making? Is it a good one?
~Do people past their prime ever do foolish things in an effort to prove they aren’t?
~If Rooster is truly numb to the deaths of innocents, then why does he try so hard to arrest their assailants? Do you think he’s lying in this scene?
~How does feeling guilty make you act differently? Is it better for people who do something wrong to get caught rather than to get away with it?
~What do you think of the decision to plan evidence to frame a guilty guy for a different crime he didn’t commit? How is this arrogant? How does this affect the rest of the development of the movie?
~What does the aberrant sexual relationship between Turk and Karen tell you about him? What does it tell you about her? Do you think people can be honorable in one area of their lives when they behave as perverts in other areas of their lives?

Overall Grade: B-
If only they had done something more clever overall, I would have really loved it. But since they didn’t, I didn’t. Too bad because I obviously had high expectations from DeNiro and Pacino.

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