Starring: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, and Yvonne Strahovski. Directed by: Gary McKendry
Set in 1980, and loosely based on the controversial (and supposedly fact-based) 1991 novel “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes, Killer Elite tells the story of Danny (Jason Statham), a mercenary, who along with his mentor and friend, Hunter (Robert De Niro), is scheduled to assassinate a Mexican government official. When the plan takes a tragic turn, Danny’s guilt causes him to question the morality of his life’s work, and he retires to Australia. There he starts a new life, and a new romance with Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), a beautiful farmer whom Danny knew when he was a young man. A year later, Danny receives an envelope with a photograph of Hunter, taken inside a filthy prison cell, and instructions to travel to Muscat, the capital of the Arab state of Oman. Once there, Danny is taken to meet a wealthy sheik, who tells him that Hunter was captured while on a job in Oman, and that he will be executed… unless Danny agrees to hunt down and kill three British S.A.S operatives who committed an atrocity against the sheik’s family ten years before. Danny reluctantly agrees, and sets out to complete the job with a small team of trained killers, Davies and Meier (Dominic Purcell and Aden Young). Not long after, the three men discover that their assignment will not go smoothly. Enter Spike Logan (Clive Owen), a former S.A.S. assassin and member of a group known as the “Feather Men”, a secret society of former S.A.S. who attempt to convince Spike that the men being hunted by the assassins are expendable, and that he should allow them to die. However, Spike, who believes the hunted men to be patriots and “brothers-in-arms”, is determined to find and kill Danny and his team… at any cost.
In the interest of honesty, I should say I didn’t go into Killer Elite expecting much. I’ve never been a fan of Jason Statham, who seems to play the exact same character in most of his films, a trend that was given a playful ribbing in 2010’s The Expendables. While he never quite breaks free of that mold in Killer Elite, the conflicted nature of his character makes this, in my opinion, his best performance to date. Danny really does not want to kill people anymore, and Statham plays that as convincingly as he’s capable of. Clive Owen’s performance as Spike is fairly by-the-numbers for the otherwise fantastic actor, but he still manages to make the role his own, and his commitment to the character is admirable. Robert De Niro, who at the age of 68 is an Oscar-winning legend, has absolutely nothing to prove as an actor, yet he demonstrates that he’s still got what it takes to kick some ass on the big screen. There are plenty of actors who could have played Hunter, but De Niro is the only actor who should have played him, and though the role is relatively small for an actor of his stature, his presence gives the film a touch of class. One character that is sadly underdeveloped is Yvonne Strahovski’s Anne, who is essentially the token love interest of the story. It’s not that Ms. Strahovski’s performance isn’t a solid one (she’s actually quite good in the limited screen time she’s given), the issue with the role is that her character seems to exist ONLY to give Statham’s Danny one more person to worry about and protect from harm.
From a technical standpoint, Killer Elite has its ups and downs, yet always manages to stay entertaining. The fight sequences are fantastically choreographed, and are appropriately violent for the film’s R-rating. The obligatory car chases are passable, though not groundbreaking in the least. The script, while peppered with questionable dialogue on occasion, keeps the story easy to follow, even when the plot begins its inevitable twists and turns. All things considered, I believe director Gary McKendry has a descent future ahead of him. For a first feature film, it’s impressive.
What I find most interesting about Killer Elite is that the novel that inspired it is supposedly a true story. The author, Ranulph Fiennes, is a former S.A.S. operative, and his novel’s claims about exactly why the sheik from Oman wanted those S.A.S. men dead have been officially denied by the British government. The film version, while certainly not a great work of art, is a fairly well-crafted espionage/revenge thriller. The action moves at a brisk pace, and I was never compelled to look at my watch during the 105-minute runtime. A few weak points in the script and some missed opportunities to develop certain characters aside, Killer Elite is a good time at the movies.