Righteous Kill is a 2008 American crime thriller film with elements of a buddy cop film directed by Jon Avnet, and starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. It is one of only two movies (the other is Heat) in which De Niro and Pacino appear together in the same scenes (both De Niro and Pacino starred in The Godfather Part II, but did not appear in any of the same scenes). Righteous Kill also features John Leguizamo, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy, and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. The film was released in the United States on September 12, 2008.
Police psychologists review recordings of a man (Robert De Niro), who states his name as Detective David Fisk, the "Poetry Boy" killer. The Poetry Boy earned the moniker for his modus operandi of murdering criminals and leaving short poems with their bodies. Fisk reveals that he looks up to his partner of almost 30 years, Tom Cowan (who the audience is led to believe is the character portrayed by Al Pacino), and considers him to be his role model of how a cop should be. Pacino's character is known by the nickname "Rooster" and De Niro's by "Turk," and they are referred as such outside of the recordings.
These recordings provide a narrative, and the film opens with the tenth victim, a drug dealer named Robert "Rambo" Brady (Rob Dyrdek). Turk and Rooster investigate the murder with the less-experienced Detectives Corelli (Carla Gugino), Perez (John Leguizamo), and Riley (Donnie Wahlberg). When they find a poem on the body, they link it to the Poetry Boy.
As Poetry Boy murders acquitted rapist Jonathan Van Luytens and Father Connell, a Catholic priest and child molester (children including Poetry Boy himself), tension builds between Turk, Corelli, and Perez. Turk is now living with Corelli, who happens to be Perez's ex-girlfriend. Poetry Boy assaults an attempted fourteenth victim, Russian mobster Yevgeny Magulat, but he survives and goes on to shoot at Perez's house and rape Corelli. Perez and Riley suspect Turk of being Poetry Boy due to his markmanship skills and psych evaluations, so they arrange a secretly supervised meeting between Turk and a drug dealer Marcus "Spider" Smith (50 Cent) (during which Turk supposedly must kill him). Turk proves his innocence during an encounter with this drug dealer as he has the "wrong" gun and humiliating but obviously inappropriate poem. After Perez and Riley leave the scene unsatisfied, Rooster kills Spider. During this scrape Rooster inadvertently drops his diary.
Turk stumbles upon and reads Rooster's journal, Rooster claims Spider as Poetry Boy's fourteenth victim. Rooster puts Turk in front of a video camera and forces him to read the journal. At this point, it is realized that the recordings from and the narration merely set Turk up as a red herring, and Rooster is the actual Poetry Boy. Turk's name is actually Tom Cowan, and Rooster is David Fisk. Rooster lost his faith in justice when Turk, an otherwise "righteous" cop, planted a gun at the house of acquitted child molester and murderer Charles Randall (Frank John Hughes), convicting him. This leads him to taking justice into his own hands.
When Turk finishes, he chases Rooster to a construction site. Rooster fires aimlessly to convince Turk to report that the Poetry Boy is assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and fleeing, but Turk resists. When Rooster takes aim at Turk, Turk fires, striking Rooster in the chest. He calls for an ambulance, however Rooster begs him to withdraw the ambulance. After some hesitation, Turk calls off the ambulance, allowing Rooster to bleed to death. He is last shown coaching a Police Athletic League baseball team as Corelli looks on.
- Robert De Niro as Detective Tom Cowan/"Turk"
- Al Pacino as Detective David Fisk/"Rooster"/The "Poetry Boy" Killer
- John Leguizamo as Detective Simon Perez
- Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Theodore Riley
- Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as Marcus Smith/"Spider"
- Carla Gugino as Detective Karen Corelli
- Brian Dennehy as Lieutenant Hingis
- Frank John Hughes as Charles Randall
- Trilby Glover as Jessica
- Oleg Taktarov as Yevgeny Mugalat
- Rob Dyrdek as Robert Brady/"Rambo"
- Adrian Martinez as Glenn
The film has received mainly negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 19% of critics gave positive reviews based on 140 reviews. Metacritic gave the film a 36/100 approval rating based on 27 reviews.
The Times included Righteous Kill on its 100 Worst Films of 2008 list.
Keith Phipps of The Onion's A.V. Club said, "The novelty of watching De Niro and Pacino team up wears off pretty quickly, [with them] trudging through a thriller that would have felt warmed over in 1988. Director Jon Avnet doesn't offer much compensation for the absent suspense." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film two stars (out of four), saying: "This isn't just generic material; it's generic material with a dumb ending, and the director is a journeyman, not a craftsman. ... Its failure to live up to even modest expectations is a blow. There's nothing righteous to be found here."
Ken Fox of TV Guide also gave Righteous Kill a score of two stars out of four, saying: "The entire movie is one big build-up to a twist that, while not exactly cheating, plays an awfully cheap trick. To get there, writer Russel Gewirtz and director John Avnet sacrifice mystery, suspense, sensible editing and everything else one expects to find in a police thriller just to keep the audience off-guard. It's not worth it, and the first real pairing of De Niro and Pacino is utterly wasted." (The two actors had co-starred in The Godfather Part II without appearing on screen together and in Heat, sharing the screen in just two scenes).
Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying: "By the time the movie reaches its protracted conclusion, it feels like a slog. Pacino has a few funny lines, as does Leguizamo, but not nearly enough to save the film from collapsing under the weight of its own self-righteous tedium." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave Righteous Kill one star out of four, saying: "Some people think Robert De Niro and Al Pacino would be a kick to watch just reading a phone book. Well, bring on that phone book. Righteous Kill, a.k.a. The Al and Bob Show, is a cop flick with all the drama of Law & Order: AARP." However, Richard Roeper gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and Tim Evans for Sky Movies remarked that the film was "... an effective whodunnit but - more importantly - it poses refined, complex questions about how the law operates in a so-called civilised society."
Al Pacino earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor for his performance in the film (also for 88 Minutes), but "lost" the award to Mike Myers for The Love Guru.
On its opening weekend, Righteous Kill opened at #3, grossing $16,288,361, behind The Family That Preys and Burn After Reading respectively. Its final box office tally was approximately $40 million domestic (US/Canada) and $38 million international for a total of $78 million. By comparison, an earlier movie that paired De Niro and Pacino, Heat, grossed over $180 million worldwide. Overture Films paid $12 million to acquire the film, and stated that they will be happy if this film could gross $25 million in the United States theatrically.
The DVD and Blu-ray of the film were released on January 6, 2009. About 954,000 DVD units have been sold so far, gathering $15,828,184 in revenue. This does not include Blu-ray sales.
- List of American films of 2008
- Official website
- Righteous Kill at the Internet Movie Database
- Righteous Kill at AllMovie
- Righteous Kill at Box Office Mojo
- Righteous Kill at Rotten Tomatoes