KILLER ELITE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Gary McKendry

Stars: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young, Yvonne Strahovski, Ben Mendelsohn, Adewale Akinnuaye-Aghaje, David Whiteley, Lachy Hulme, Firass Dirani, Nick Tate, Matthew Nable, Billie Brown, Grant Bowler, Michael Dorman.

 

This formulaic but exciting action thriller is not a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s violent 1975 film The Killer Elite, which starred James Caan and Robert Duvall as a pair of rival assassins. Rather it is based on a non-fiction book called The Feathermen, written by Ranulph Fiennes, a former adventurer and SAS soldier, and cousin of actor Ralph. The book is allegedly based on Fiennes’s own experiences. However, debutante screenwriter Matt Sherring seems to have taken a number of liberties with the story to turn it into this violent, fast-paced and brutal action thriller.
An exiled Sheik seeks revenge on the SAS soldiers who killed three of his sons during Britain’s dirty secret little war during the Dhofar Rebellion in Oman. He kidnaps veteran assassin Hunter (Robert De Niro) in order to force his ex-partner Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) to complete the mission. Bryce has retired from the business, but in a cliché of this genre he has been lured back to do one last job.
Bryce assembles his own small team of professionals to track down the former soldiers and eliminate them. However, he needs to make the deaths look like accidents. His team consists of the volatile Davies (Dominic Purcell) and technical expert Meier (Aden Young).
But the feathermen, a shadowy group of former SAS men operating a quasi-military security force and whose agenda sometimes runs counter to the British government’s aims, gets a whiff of Bryce’s operation and sets out to stop him. Ex-SAS soldiers who are now legitimate businessmen, they call themselves the feathermen because their touch is light and they leave no trace of their presence. Their chief man in the field is Spike Logan (Clive Owen), a deadly efficient former soldier whose killing skills are more than a match for Danny’s.
Danny and Spike play out a lethal cat and mouse game that races from Oman to Wales and Paris, and the confrontations between these two hard men add some spice to an otherwise fairly formulaic actioner. Even though the film is set in the early 80s, its take on political intrigue, government deception and geopolitical concerns still has resonance today.
First time feature director Gary McKendry maintains a frenetic, brutal pace throughout that temporarily glosses over the numerous holes in the plot. McKendry comes from a background directing commercials, and his 20-minute short Everything In This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in the live-action short category. He brings a slick and stylish look to the action, and his robust direction keeps the testosterone levels high.
The action has been slickly shot by cinematographer Simon Duggan (Live Free Or Die Hard, etc), who is a dab hand at shooting elaborate action sequences. However he still resorts to choppy hand held cameras for some of the action sequences, which undercuts the mayhem. Killer Elite was partially shot in Melbourne last year, and you can catch a glimpse of a number of local actors like Ben Mendelsohn, Aden Young, Lachy Hulme, Michael Dorman, and Firass Dirani (from ABC series The Straits, etc) in small roles.
Statham has carved out a niche for himself in these big boisterous action films (the recent remake of The Mechanic, The Mean Machine, etc), many of which go straight to DVD, and he has a credible physical presence, much like Bruce Willis in the late 80s and early 90s. De Niro plays second fiddle to Statham, and is largely wasted in a one-dimensional and fairly thankless role. Owen is suitably cold-blooded and credible as Spike, and he brings a nice ambiguity to his character, who would otherwise have been a noble and virtuous hero.
Killer Elite is the sort of macho tough guy actioner that Sam Peckinpah may well have made in his later years!

***

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