Between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, you have 14 Oscar nominations and three awards. Nine of those nominations came between 1975 and 1981. Their place in the pantheon of great American actors is assured and in all likelihood at the front of the line. And for all of the great movies they've done, aside from a minutes-long sequence in a diner in Michael Mann's Heat, they've never shared a scene together even though they've co-starred in two movies (that and the second Godfather) film. In between those two films lie some of the greatest performances you'll ever see, but when it comes to Righteous Kill, the question to ask was whether or not the moment to see both of them on screen at one time had passed.
Based on a script by Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man) and directed by Jon Avnet (88 Minutes), De Niro and Pacino play longtime New York Detectives who have been partners for years. Several years ago, the pair went to the crime scene where a young girl was brutally murdered. While her mother was inconsolable, she also inexplicably testified on behalf of her boyfriend, who was the suspect. "Turk" (De Niro) decided to manufacture evidence that would ensure a conviction, and this happened while "Rooster" (Pacino). Fast forward to present day, and a lot of the city's undesirables are being killed and evidence is left in the same manner that Turk did for the years-old murder. So with Detectives Perez (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge) and Riley (Donnie Wahlberg, Band of Brothers) trying to find out the culprit, the question of whether or not a serial killer is on the loose emerges, along with whether or not it's a police officer.
For all the hype of seeing De Niro and Pacino on screen together, allow me to talk about why doing it was probably not a good idea to begin with. When you look at the pair's resumes recently, aside from Angels in America and The Merchant of Venice, Pacino hasn't done anything of real enjoyment in several years (since Insomnia I believe), while De Niro, well, has been doing Analyze That and Meet the Fockers. Now I'm not suggesting that a cinematic pairing hasn't passed them by, but both in this film and in their recent choices through recent years, some discriminating should be in order. As it stands, they both seem to be a little aloof with the material, breezing their way through it. And I can see why, because the material is a tedious exercise. And while some veteran actors like Brian Dennehy appear in the film both to lend it gravitas and for their opportunity to work with both actors, you've got Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, who's turned in much better performances than this, and Rob Dyrdek, who I like a whole lot. But in his couple of lines in the film, he delivers them with as much gusto as a professional skateboarder and miniature horse owner can, I suppose. Carla Gugino (Sin City) is De Niro's love interest and a forensics investigator, but she's got a propensity for rough sex and daddy issues, from what I can tell. And then you have the ending, which Larry King says "will blow you away!" on the back of the case. I hardly found myself blown away. In fact, I saw it coming from halfway through the film, it was only a question of how much I would be distracted by De Niro and Pacino's acting on screen. As it turns out, I was distracted, but not by their acting. The ending laid a wet fart on what already was a movie that many sleepwalked their way through, so in context, maybe the ending was indicative of it all.
So at the end of the day, can we say that the De Niro/Pacino co-starring effort is a failure? I certainly wouldn't nuke it from orbit based on this turd of a story, but both actors are coming up on 70 years of age, so the clock is running to deliver them a quality story and capable direction. Having seen both of them as New York cops in better movies than this, they should have known better than to do this for the sake of doing it. Avnet doesn't direct too often, but in between this film and his last, he's seemingly misdirected one of the greatest actors in American history. However, it takes a lot to screw it up when you have the other one on set to boot, and he seems to do that in fine fashion.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.35:1 1080p widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, Righteous Kill brings out all the facial detail in these great actors, every wrinkle and every crease. Blacks are deep and provide an excellent contrast, and what little color there is in the film (like Gugino's thong, rawr!) pop vibrantly and without oversaturation. Many of the exterior shots possess a multi-dimensional feel and much of the background is reproduced with excellent clarity. Fleshtones are reproduced accurately and without concern, and the few scenes that occur in daylight look natural without overexposed whites. The film tends to suffer from slight bouts of image softness, but otherwise looks sharp throughout viewing.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround option is slightly disappointing. While gunshots pack a punch over a quality sound range, the dialogue comes in soft on many scenes. Granted, De Niro isn't the loudest guy in the room until the situation presents itself, but I found myself turning up the dialogue sequences more often than not. Ambient sounds and directional activity was effective and smartly placed though, and the low-end of the subwoofer fired off on a few occasions when it was called for. The sound presentation of Righteous Kill was tolerable, but it could have been better than it was.
Not too much, but that's hardly surprising. Avent pitches in with a commentary which covers working with De Niro and Pacino, and his thoughts on the supporting cast. He also discusses the production and any challenges he faces, along with the occasional shot breakdown, but he tended to lull me into a stupor when I listened for too long. Overall I'd recommend skipping this track. Two featurettes, both in high definition, are next, starting with "The Investigation" (14:23), which is your standard making-of look at the film, and how De Niro and Pacino came to it, while the supporting cast talks about how cool it was to work with them, and that they'd "sweep the floors" for a chance to be on the production, that kind of thing. It kind of tries to be informative, but it can't really get past the two stars and the allure of the pair together on set. From there, "The Thin Blue Line" (19:05) is a look at the personalities that would be attracted to police work, and covers some of the temptations or law bending possibilities that the badge includes, like corruption, police brutality and the like, with real-life examples mentioned, or in the case of Richard Rivera, talked about with recollections from him. It's hard to tell what the point of this is, as it just seems to say 'here's what the police are capable of doing,' so it was unfulfilling to see where it was headed. Two trailers, one for the film and one for Traitor follow on this BD-Live enabled disc, and a second disc houses the digital copy that we've all grown to know and like(?)
As standalone talents, De Niro and Pacino's work stands for itself, even if in recent years the bloom has worn off their individual roses. But together, you can almost taste the apathy about their work on an unimaginative police crime thriller. And since I've seen better performances from each actor individually, and I've seen better police crime thrillers, there's really no point in watching this. Stick to the diner scene in Heat, and you should be OK.