Righteous Kill: Avnet’s Police Thriller

Depicting the police work in the most realistic light possible was a priority for the filmmakers, which required assembling a team of experts to ensure authenticity.

Technical Adviser Neil Carter

“We always made sure we had a technical advisor available,” says producer Rob Cowan. “Director Jon Avnet was constantly picking up the phone and calling one of these guys, even just for a line or how a guy would handle something. Neil Carter, who was a homicide detective, was very helpful in that area.”

Carter was with the NYPD for 24 years. After leaving the force, he carved out a second career as a film consultant, working on films including Inside Man, The Brave One, American Gangster and The Bourne Ultimatum. His job was to review the script and advise the director and actors on whatever questions they had regarding NYPD procedures.

Producer Daniel Rosenberg recalls: “When Detective Carter first read the script, he said to Russ, ‘You’ve been talking to some detectives.’ Russ spent the day convincing him the story was actually the product of his imagination. It really captures what it’s like to be a cop and that is a true testament to Russell Gewirtz as a writer.”

Capturing Cops Frustrations

Carter says “Righteous” Kill accurately captures the frustration some cases engender in investigators. “You sometimes get the feeling that you’re swimming against the tide. There are cases that I worked on that went on for years. Even now that I’m retired, there’s still a case going on that I worked on for the last three years of my career. It sticks in my gut, because I really want to see this case resolved.”

The close relationship between the two lead detectives, Rooster and Turk, is also something Carter experienced first-hand. “Sometimes you spend more time with your partner on the job than you spend with your wife, your girlfriend, your boyfriend,” he says. “They may even know you better than your own family knows you. You have to trust your partner, because when you’re going through a door with somebody, you have to know that they got your back and vice versa. I know guys who have been partners for years and they’ve gone through two or three wives in that time.”
Carter also worked with the actors during gun training. “They used nine-millimeters on the range, which are standard issue for NYPD. I showed them how to hold a gun, how to do a combat stand, exactly the way we’re trained in the NYPD, and how to be prepared for a shootout. Your range training puts you in the right frame of mind for handling the gun. If it jams during a gunfight, you’ve already gone through the motions, so you’re ready.”

Weaponry and Firearms

Armorer Ed Lighter supervised and provided weapons for “Righteous Kill,” which included Glock 19 9-millimeter pistols, Heckler & Koch MP5 K submachine guns and an M4, a variant of the M16 military rifle outfitted with an ultra short barrel for S.W.A.T work.

“Generally a prop man can handle small amounts of firearms,” says Lighter. “When there are a lot of weapons, that’s when they will call for an armorer on set. An armorer is specialized in two ways. They’re responsible for doing the modifications to firearms to make them shoot blanks. And that, in itself, is extremely complicated, depending upon the nature of the firearm. It can be like getting an elephant to fly.

“The next is supervising the actual use of the weapons to make sure that they are handled safely, that the actors have been instructed in their use and that technical elements are cared for so there’s no jam, because any mechanical device is subject to failure.”

Lighter says he was very impressed with Jon Avnet’s meticulous attention to safety on the set. “People have the misconception that blanks are caps of some sort, but they’re actually extremely dangerous. They have to be handled as if they were live ammunition. This director’s concern was more about getting things right safely than trying to get as much done as quickly as possible, which is really refreshing.”

Shooting in New York and Connecticut

While set in New York City, the film was primarily shot in and around Bridgeport, Connecticut. The 36-day shoot also included filming in Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn. Producer Rob Cowan says that the decision to shoot outside the Big Apple was primarily financial. “We looked at a couple different places to shoot, but the tax break in Connecticut was really terrific, especially for a movie of our size. The proximity to New York was great, too, because so many of our actors were based out of New York.”

The most populous city in Connecticut, Bridgeport was formerly a thriving manufacturing center with hundreds of mills and factories. The city’s traditional architecture and early 20th century urban atmosphere made it a convincing stand-in for New York. Still, “Locations had to be chosen carefully,” says Cowan. “We couldn’t always just walk in and shoot. For example, we found an old linen factory and converted the former offices into our precinct.”

Cinematographer Denis Lenoir

Denis Lenoir, who previously worked with Avnet on the Golden Globe-nominated telefilm “Uprising,” (for which he won the ASC award for best cinematography) came to the set with a lot of ideas about how to recreate the claustrophobia and intensity for “Righteous Kill.” He put together a portfolio of movie stills for the director drawn from films set in New York, including Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” and John Cassavetes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.”

“This was very different from what we had done before, which is what we try to do every time,” says Lenoir. “On one hand, we wanted to do a film noir, a dark movie. But on the other hand we wanted to be naturalistic or realistic. These are two cops in Manhattan, not superheroes.”
“It is a very modern story, but by shooting in very high contrast, Denis gave it the feeling an older movie,” says Cowan. “He went for that edge.”

De Niro and Pacino’s Faces in Full Light

Lenoir’s other important consideration was making sure that the atmosphere he wanted to create didn’t obscure the actor’s faces in any way. “You have Robert De Niro and Al Pacino,” he says. “I can’t speak for other DP’s, but I don’t want to put them totally in the dark. I want to see any little thing they do with their lips, with their mouth, with their faces because that is where the story is told. So I decided that the way to give the illusion of darkness was by putting bright lights not on them but next to them.”

The director says there are two key elements to “Righteous Kill” that he hopes will bring audiences into the theaters. Bob and Al get to play New York City Detectives. I think they play characters that feel like a perfect fit for them. “The second thing is the rest of the castwe’ve got Leguizamo, Donnie, Curtis, Rob, Carla. It’s a very deep group of actors. There’s a depth to the world. They complement our two stars well and hopefully create a reality that let’s Russell’s story come to life.”