The ultimate combination of Jason Statham, Robert De Niro and Clive Owen accounts for the elite, but the end result is less than killer.
Based on Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ novel, The Feather Men, and not the 1975 film of the same name, Killer Elite enters a crowded market of spy flicks and secret ops that are covertly beating each other up in cinemas around the world. Fiennes’ book caused a stir when it was released in the early 1990s, as it was purportedly based on “real life” examples of a secret squad of British SAS assassins. In the wake of a decade of post-9/11 spy dramas and thrillers, this Australian co-production goes back to the heyday of the 1980s, where the good guys were good, and the bad guys had beards.
It’s 1980, and mercenary Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) is ready to leave the killing business after a job goes wrong in Mexico. Returning to Australia with his girlfriend, Danny is summoned to Oman a year later when his colleague Hunter (Robert De Niro) has been held captive. Mission facilitator Agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) lets him know Hunter accepted a $6 million job and couldn’t finish it, and now he is being held captive by Sheikh Amr, who wants the three SAS agents who killed his eldest sons terminated. In order to save Hunter, Danny has to get back in the game and not only convince all three agents to confess, but to make their deaths look like accidents. Plus, he must also contend with Logan (Clive Owen), the head enforcer of the Feathermen, a society that protects their own agents.
Academy Award nominated short film director Gary McKendry makes his feature debut with Killer Elite, and he has done so by throwing most of his kitchen utensils at the task. Shot almost entirely in Australia, this is an awkward fit, presumably only done to appease the local financing gods. Yet with a few trips to the UK and Morocco, McKendry attempts to give the film a bit of a globetrotting flavour in the style of the Bourne films. However, the slate-grey and über-serious way the film treats the material sucks any of the potential fun out of the mash-up of these three distinct superstars in their own right. Killer Elite is a very no frills affair, and even with explosions, car chases and gunplay galore, none of it is done with a sense of entertainment, or seemingly with a sense of purpose.
Killer Elite lurches from one scene to the next, as if carrying the weight of the action tropes it know that it must live up to. You can almost see the action movie checklist hovering over the side of the screen during this overlong movie. The usually reliable Statham takes no pleasure in the methodically presented bone-crunching action, and Owen seems to have phoned in much of his performance. Supporting cast members Dominic Purcell and the great Lachy Hulme provide a bit of liveliness in quiet moments, but only De Niro, who holds the smallest amount of screen time of all the players, truly impresses with one of his more solid performances in recent years.
Matt Sherring‘s script hints at the possibility of a sequel, although he and director McKendry will next be seen working together on Joseph and the Girl, a remake of the French film Joseph et la Fille. If that sequel does come along, Killer Elite has all of the basic building blocks to make a solid action film, it just needs to tighten them all up to truly live up to its title.