Action director Steven C. Miller is certainly a prolific guy. With five films over the past couple of years, two of them (including Arsenal, which I reviewed here earlier this year) have come in this young 2017 alone.
Echoing back to the simplistic revenge-thriller or mob-tough guy aesthetic of the 80’s, his films have met with varying degrees of success and technical ability. His latest effort, First Kill, remains the best of his bunch so far … unless one denies the over-the-top guilty pleasures to be had from Marauders (2016).
Like that previous film, First Kill assembles a staunch A-list cast, including Bruce Willis (again) and Hayden Christensen. The film also wastes no time in establishing its thriller roots of bourgeois conflicting with the darker, greedier side of bloodthirsty humanity.
The bourgeois is New York stockbroker Will (Christensen), who decides to try and alleviate the bullying of his 11-year-old son Danny (Ty Shelton) with a weekend trip of “manning up” in the backwoods of his childhood territory. With wife Laura (Megan Leonard) and family heirloom hunting rifle in tow, their first day of rural education is interrupted by some bad dudes trying to settle the score for a recent back robbery.
One thing leads to another and criminal Levi (Gethin Anthony) swoops up young Danny, forcing Will to work outside the law in bringing his son home. The law comes in the form of sheriff Bruce Willis, scowling and glaring with an authority that only Willis seems to possess. He can play this type of swaggering, sweltering character in his sleep, and it’s the absolute best thing about First Kill.
Not so successful is Christensen as the avenging father. I understand the baggage of his on-screen presence still hovers mightily from his much maligned and discussed Star Wars prequel days, but he feels hollow and unconvincing here as well. Add to that the film’s insistence on some characters doing what they had to do because of the huge gap between the haves and the have nots, crafting a likable protagonist out of a wealthy stockbroker seems dubious at best.
Outside of his role, though, First Kill is competent and involving. The action scenes — including one vehicle/RV chase that’s constructed cleverly with an uninterrupted sense of place via gliding tracking shots — never feel unrealistic or exaggerated. And even though the film telegraphs a few of its third act character reversals, Miller and screenwriter Nick Gordon plumb the depths of innocence versus malignancy with a shrewd eye for satisfying entertainment.
First Kill opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, July 21 at the AMC Dine In Mesquite 30.