A Crime Movie Whose Main Crime is Lacking a Killer Reason to Exist
About the Film
Killerman (2019) feels in many ways like an extremely well-produced student film, or perhaps the film a company would take a chance on a promising film school grad to direct. This movie’s main accomplishment is setting a new level of quality for looking like it was shot on location—while set in New York City, I was stunned to see Georgia’s peach logo in the credits. The shots are filmed in literally cool tones, as the movie reinforces current color schemes that blue hues = urban, and its shots are challenging without being groundbreaking. The movie is overly grainy as if the filmmaker wanted to emphasize “This is film” or perhaps just pushed the “make my digital video look like film” button too many times. Like a student film, it tries to be ambitious without having the experience to know what to be ambitious about, and it ends up relying upon weak action, questionable accents, and genre tropes well past their sell-by date.
The title might suggest horror or action, but the story is really a crime drama, tracing money launderer “Moe” and his friend “Skunk” through encounters with gangs, drug dealers, organized crime, dirty cops, and even corrupt FBI officials. While it follows firmly in the paths of the noirs which did not have any “good guys,” Killerman does not do a particularly good job of making us care about its characters. Even then, it could still have been more entertaining if it had not relied upon long-broken crutches like amnesia (Apart from being lazy story-writing, why does amnesia in the movies always reset a person’s moral compass?) and unexplained, unmentioned, unbelievable abilities which only surface when needed (How come only the star can perform superhuman feats despite being a “normal” character in the movie’s world?). Unfortunately, the film-makers tried to balance the movie’s weakness by achieving a hard R rating.
On the Surface—(Profanity, sexual content, violence, etc.).
Harsh profanity is uttered both in and outside the crimes depicted. Speaking of crimes, nearly every criminal activity except rape is depicted, but two scenes of frankly gross sex are present to offset this one omission. Torture is shown on-camera. Kids should not see that,and most adults simply won’t.
Beneath the Surface—(Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
- Violence Versus Sex
One area where Killerman evinces insight is in its depictions of violence. Christian film scholar Robert Jewett has pointed out that almost all violence in American movies ends up being cleansing, and if not glorified per se, it still ends up being the solution. The unspoken rule in movies is that if violence caused it, violence alone can fix it. But encountering violence in real life almost always makes you want to toss your lunch, and soldiers do not relish the violence they may have been forced to enact. The violence in Killerman is not depicted with zest, and even the anti-hero Moe’s revenge is viewed with horror and cries of “No!” by Skunk.
Yet violence—with all its ugliness—is occasionally encountered in public life and sometimes even required, although it is regrettable when circumstances force it. Violence in the Bible is rarely glorified but rarely toned-down either; there is a matter-of-factness to the details given, even when bodies are horribly mangled. There are different levels of violence, of course, ranging from the appropriate to the cruel, and when adults are exposed to any level of believable violence it shocks them to attention. In short, when presented without stylization or “glorification,” violence has a sobering effect that is not necessarily immoral
2. Sex Versus Violence
Quite apart from violence in real life which should be acknowledged as lamentable but not always wrong, sex ought to be celebrated as an incredible gift, and like any other incredibly valuable gift, most people intuitively understand that it should be guarded. Killerman, like most modern movies, fails in this area. Seeing sex on a screen titillates us because we feel like we do not have to worry about the awkwardness which we feel when encountering PDA in real life. And certainly, in real life we would never consider getting just inches away from other people having sex, like we allow cameras to show us on-screen! God’s protection of sex by safeguarding it in marriage is both wise and utterly beneficial for people. The Bible shows that sex can be discussed candidly and referenced in stories without being exploited and exploitative. Unlike the public depiction of violence though, the depiction of public sex harms both those watching it and those play-acting it.
Killerman treads no new ground. Countless noirs from the 40’s and 50’s depict immoral characters doing immoral things in taut stories. More recently, Donnie Brasco (1997) displayed how ambiguously emotional even being a “good guy” among criminals can be, and The Salton Sea (2002) shows that a movie about being trapped in the criminal underworld can be a thrilling mind-bender. Yet watching Killerman is like taking a bubble bath in dirty water—the experience is not worth the process.