The Kill Point (2007)
Directed by Steve Shill
Produced by Jay Benson
Written by James DeMonaco and Todd Harthan
Starring John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Frank Grillo, Michael Hogan, Steve Cirbus, Christine Evangelista
Available March 4, 2008
It was supposed to be a lightning quick and perfect bank robbery, as five military veterans lead by the codenamed Mr. Wolf (John Leguizamo) assault a Pittsburgh bank, steal the millions of dollars that have just been delivered, and head off into the sunset in the waiting getaway car. But when variables beyond their control foil their plot, they are forced to hole up inside the bank with the terrified hostages. As S.W.A.T. take their positions and await further instructions, so do the curious crowd and media reports take theirs. Amidst this confusion is Horst Cali (Donnie Wahlberg), a top-ranked negotiator who has never lost a hostage.
Wolf and Cali begin a methodical back and forth conversation, as each try to outsmart the other and anticipate the next move. But Cali’s slow and easy approach as he tries to get one hostage out at a time becomes foiled when the FBI are brought in to expedite the procedure with a harsh no-nonsense plan to break down Mr. Wolf. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh mayor Alan Beck (Tobin Bell), whose daughter is one of the hostages, takes his own risky and very dangerous approach to ending matters and getting his daughter out alive. As the hours roll into days, tension and exhaustion begin to take their toll on all involved, it is only a matter of time before someone makes a fatal mistake.
Originally aired in weekly installments in the summer of 2007 on Spike TV, The Kill Point is a tense and nailbiting game of testosterone-fueled chess that manages to keep its anything-can-happen-next pace from the first shootout to its final harrowing conclusion. In between, the dialogue crackles with fiery exchanges while outbursts of violence keep the viewer on their toes and keeps the production from falling into a wash-rinse-repeat rhythm of talking heads.
The “kings” in this chess game, Jon Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg, each bring solid performances to the screen, and across the approximately six-hour running time, this pair get to really dig their heels in the sand and bring their characters to life. If there is one thing about The Kill Point, it is that there are is no black and white. Both Mr. Wolf and Cali are fleshed out characters that are not only likable but easy to route for depending on the situation they are in at the moment. Leguizamo radiates with charm and charisma, while Wahlberg finds a sympathetic voice, and both show off their ability to flip an internal switch and in a single beat switch to survivalist mode with the violence to match.
Behind this entire caper is the writing pair of James DeMonaco and Todd Harthan. DeMonaco was previously responsible for The Negotiator and the remake of Assault On Precinct 13, and he blends the dialogue drama and close-quarters claustrophobia of both into his teleplays here. Harthan is a relative newcomer, but with a The Kill Point now under his belt, has made an impressive addition to his resume. Throughout the series, the dialogue and the tense situations the characters are thrown into are simply electric. And while Wolf and Cali are the two main characters, the script is filled with a swath of equally important secondary characters, who are each given subtle development cues and help drive the story forward.
The series is also injected with themes of brotherhood and trust, and in a bold move, puts a spotlight on the growing discontent with the Iraq War. The script never comes down on one side of the war debate, but there is no doubt that DeMonaco and Harthan are extremely respectful towards soldiers. They do not try for a moment to hide the fact they are pissed at the current treatment of soldiers from their lack of proper equipment, their forced extended tours, the time they spend away from their families, the “life” they come home to and the potential madness awaiting them. They touch on the isolation and the mental damage that comes from combat, and at times even come close to mirroring the cinematic pain of soldiers in First Blood and Coming Home. It gets a bit heavy-handed at times, but it essential for building up what is one of the core messages of the series, and that is the ability to choose.
Director Steve Shill, who has made an impressive name for himself with his work on HBO’s Deadwood and Rome, Showtime’s Dexter, and the 2008 Knight Rider pilot, brings his keen ability for making television bigger and better to the production. For most of the series, Shill nimbly moves his chess pieces around the two main sets, the bank and the negotiator’s operation center, and keeps an exciting and tight editing pace that slowly builds up a pressure cooker tension until explodes, and then starts the whole process over again. Shill keeps the danger alert on red at all times, even during the most lucid of moments, and as the series progresses into the third act relishes in the characters’ inability to retain control over situations. The only time that Shill really falters is during the shootouts. The opening firefight feels like a poor man’s version of Heat, and the firecracker sparks that are used as effects when bullets hit cars and walls make for poor substitutes for freshly made bullet holes. It is little nuances like this that keep the show rooted as a television mini-series, rather than a six-hour hostage movie.
The Kill Point is definitely a step above in production for Spike TV and easily rivals the excellent gritty content that FX has been pouring out for several years now. If they can put a few more series like this onto the airwaves, the station may just have a chance to show new face beyond MXC and UFC reality programs.
Lionsgate Distribution brings the Spike TV show home on a two-disc set which includes all eight episodes of the series with a crisp anamorphic widescreen presentation and a booming 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Also included are English and Spanish subtitles. The only extras are nine of the sixteen mini-interviews with the main actors that were originally produced for SpikeTV.com, where each actor gives an in-character interview as they discuss their role in the robbery. All sixteen interviews, as well as five webisodes are still available on their site.