Movie Review: Killer Elite
By Matthew Huntley
October 3, 2011
Killer Elite wants to be two different movies in one - a tense, calculating thriller purportedly based on a true story; and an outrageous action extravaganza with all the usual (and expensive) bells and whistles, from explosions and shoot-outs to car chases and death-defying stunts . Both movies can be believable in their own worlds, but trying to mix them proves problematic and yields a mostly generic experience, one that doesn’t give us much to care for or get excited about.
Jason Statham and Robert De Niro play Danny and Hunter, a pair of highly-trained, covert operatives who take various assassination jobs around the world. The opening finds them in Mexico, where with the rest of their killing team - Davies (Dominic Purcell) and Meier (Aden Young) - they’re about to take out a Mexican politician. All goes according to plan until Danny sees a young boy riding in the same car as the target, which suddenly has him questioning his career and lifestyle. He takes a bullet to the arm before telling Hunter he wants out of the business.
Flash forward a year and Danny now lives peacefully in Australia and is busy rebuilding an old ranch house. He’s also begun seeing a beautiful blonde named Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), whom we suspect will either be kidnapped or put in jeopardy before the movie ends (such is the fate of attractive blondes in action movies).
Danny seems content but then he receives a telegram from his former contact (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) letting him know Hunter is being held captive in Oman by a powerful sheikh (Rodney Afif). The sheikh gives Danny specific instructions if he wants to free his friend: find and kill the three members of the British Secret Spy Service (SAS) who killed three of the sheikh’s four sons. He must obtain taped confessions and proof that each man is dead, as well as stage each death to look like an accident.
Enter in an illegal faction of ex-SAS members, nicknamed “The Feather Men,” who monitor and protect their former brethren. When members of their unit start dying, one fiery and devoted patriot named Spike Logan (Clive Owen) begins to hunt down Danny and his team, thus igniting not only a battle of elite killers, but the wills of men trying to do the right thing and rescue their own.
I should mention Killer Elite makes a point of telling us it’s 1980 and the world is in chaos over an oil crisis, which ties in with the sheikh, who owns a desert above which there are millions of gallons of crude oil. Had the movie really honed in on its plot and explored the politics and conspiratorial ramifications around the said crisis, it might have become something useful and interesting, especially since it wants us to see the parallels between the 1980s oil climate and our present-day one. Or at least it could have fleshed out its characters so they become more than just two sets of men pitted against each other.
Alas, Matt Sherring’s screenplay, based on the novel The Feather Men, by Ranulph Fiennes, really only uses its plot and characters as a springboard for the type of action we’re already used to, the kind where tough guys dodge bullets left and right; engage in hand-to-hand combat; get thrown against walls and through glass yet walk away without even limping; falls through floorboards; and jump out of windows while tied to a chair, only to emerge mobile enough to carjack the next guy driving by.
That’s the kind of movie Killer Elite really is and, to its credit, it mildly involves us once it gets going. It’s not all brainless and corny, but it doesn’t have the courage to go beyond the confines of its genre and into the less explored territory suggested by its source. Whether or not there’s any truth to Fiennes’ novel doesn’t matter; what’s important is if the filmmakers can make an interesting movie out of it. As it is, Killer Elite is only adequate. It’s energetic and never boring, but there isn’t enough sharp dialogue, taut exchanges or revealing insights between the two sides, or inspired action to label it as anything other than common.