Killer Elite


I have to admit something: Killer Elite looked like a very bad idea when I first saw the posters.  “A shameless Jason Statham vehicle,” I thought.  However, after seeing Yvonne Strahovski’s name in the top four billing slots, as well as reading that the film was inspired by Ranulph Fiennes’ controversial book, The Feather Men, a story he claimed was a nonfictional account of his rescue by the Special Forces from a group of assassins, my interest was piqued.

My initial instinct was half right, though I must admit, the film exceeded my expectations.  It is only marginally based upon Fiennes’ book; the story and characters are pure invention.  It’s a bit smarter than most action fare, though, lacking a maniacal arch-villain and the usual quota of explosions.  Statham plays the central character, Danny Bryce, an ex-mercenary blackmailed into one last job: assassinate a group of ex-SAS members.  The job is given by a Dubai Sheikh whose sons were murdered by the ex-SAS members during the Oman war.  If Danny doesn’t do the job, then his best friend, Hunter (Robert de Niro) will be executed.

Yvonne Strahovski does what she can with her role, which I’d originally thought might be that of an assassin, but alas, she appears as Anne, Danny’s Australian girlfriend, who sits at home and worries.  Her involvement increases when she is targeted by one of Danny’s greedy contacts, known as the Agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), but this section of the story still only involves her being moved from place to place and worrying more.  She gets one very good scene with Robert de Niro, however, and I think we should acknowledge how significant this is.

Danny’s team, Davies (Dominic Purcell) and Meier (Aden Young) work as a dysfunctional machine, and the assassination scenes become much more interesting when we’re introduced to the rule that the killings must look like accidents.  Eventually, Spike Logan (Clive Owen, in a role that rhymes with his name), a member of the Feather Men, becomes aware that his friends are being killed, and decides to hunt the assassins who are assassinating assassins.  I could have fit another occurrence of “assassin” in that sentence, but the plot is cluttered and disjointed enough.  Despite this, the tension never wanes, even when the filmmakers attempt to increase the suspense with cheap, horror-movie-style music catches.  We even get a new, sort-of funny acronym, which could only exist in the British lexicon.

The best part of the film’s major conflict, sausage-fest as it is, is the fact that neither side is inherently bad.  Danny and his team do the job in order to save an innocent man (the ones who are in it for the money don’t live very long), and Logan, similarly, is trying to keep his friends from being systematically murdered.  All parties receive a relatively fair, if hopelessly safe and cozy, ending.  Luckily, Statham isn’t given the lion’s share of the movie’s dialogue, and while he carries the most responsibility, de Niro is given plenty to say, and Strahovski’s importance is stressed by the narrative, though her scenes can’t help but seem thrown in.

Also of interest is a cameo appearance by an actor playing Fiennes himself after the book is published in the film’s fiction.  As the film’s story is inspired by the book, the scene in which the book is revealed is a very good “gotcha” moment which simultaneously gives off the tang of anachronism, and while I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a time loop, it was better than being beaten over the head with absurd stunts, relentless Bull-shitsu, and fake-looking CG.  If you have to choose an action movie this month, choose Killer Elite over anything that takes place on an animated planet.  Your brain will thank you.

Killer Elite (2011); written by Matt Sherring (based upon Ranulph Fiennes’ novel, The Feather Men); directed by Gary McKendry; starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert de Niro and Yvonne Strahovski.