The 80’s were a wonderful time for action movies. Arnold, Sly, and Bruce Willis ruled the silver screen with Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Steven Seagal close behind them. For a while, it seemed as if those larger-than-life, macho movie heroes fell out of favor. Arnold went into politics, Sly’s career derailed, and Norris became a Texas Ranger on TV while Seagal and Van Damme faded into direct-to-video obscurity. Only Willis managed a diversified oeuvre taking roles in pictures like Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense. Today, the one person who has been able to take up the mantle of old school action hero is Jason Statham. He’s carved out a comfortable niche as a scruffy, steely-gazed badass in films like The Transporter and The Expendables.
Statham is once again called upon to break necks and cash checks as a hired assassin in Killer Elite. It’s a role he’s very familiar with having already played a hitman in Crank and The Mechanic. This time around, he’s got a fantastic co-star in Robert DeNiro and a pair of tough adversaries in Clive Owen and his moustache.
Killer Elite is not to be confused with 1975’s The Killer Elite, another movie about assassins that was directed by Sam Peckinpah. This Killer Elite is loosely based on The Feather Men, a 1991 novel by Sir Ranulph Fiennes that is purported to be a recounting of true events, which were largely debunked as pure fabrication. Despite the controversy, Killer Elite still advertises itself as “Based on a true story.”
The film cleverly begins with a title stating that the story is set during a time of political instability and economic turmoil. No, it’s not today, but 1980. Statham is Danny Bryce, a hitman on assignment in Mexico with his long-time friend and mentor Hunter (DeNiro), Davies (Dominic Purcell), and Meier (Aden Young), an expert in explosives and mechanics. A routine hit almost turns tragic when Danny inadvertently kills the target right in front of his young son. Danny decides to give up the game and retires to a quiet farmhouse in the Australian countryside with his girlfriend Anne (Yvonne Strahovski).
A year later, Danny is called back into action when Hunter is captured by Sheikh Amr (Rodney Afif), a deposed Omani ruler living in exile. Three of the Sheikh’s sons were killed by soldiers in the British SAS during the Dhofar Rebellion. Danny must track down the murderers, tape their confessions, and make their deaths look like accident. In doing so, Danny will secure the release of Hunter and be paid a sum of $6 million. Reuniting with Davies and Meier, Danny finds their first target, Sgt. Steven Harris (Lachy Hulme), still living in Oman. However, their not-too-subtle search catches the attentions of ex-SAS officer Spike Logan (Clive Owen), who is employed by the Feather Men, a secretive conclave of former SAS men turned semi-legitimate businessmen.
As evidenced by the use of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in the trailers, Killer Elite is meant to be something of a throwback to the 80’s action movies, but with a modern touch. Director Gary McKendry, in his feature-length debut, goes for a toned-down Paul Greengrass-style approach. The action sequences are done at a frenetic pace with quick cuts and a lot of camera movement, but never descend into a nauseating mess.
Fans of Jason Statham will be pleased as he gets to do a little bit of everything. He’s leaping across rooftops and getting into fistfights, shootouts, and car chases. He also has some decent scenes with DeNiro, even if their lines don’t sparkle off the page. While any DeNiro is good DeNiro, you can’t help but feel that the legendary actor is slumming here. Owen acts as a fine foil for Statham in a showdown of the British tough guys. Just like Danny, Spike isn’t an out and out villain though his moral compass points towards a grey area. He also sports a cheesy moustache, yet it doesn’t compare to the walrus ‘stache and bushy sideburns worn by Dominic Purcell.
What drags Killer Elite down isn’t the direction or the cast, but the run-of-the-mill script by Matt Sherring. The dialogue is full of manly clichés like, “This ends today,” and “The rules? There are no rules.” Sherring also offers up some interesting ideas, but doesn’t have the wherewithal to follow through. The Feather Men might have made cool villains, except they are virtually dropped from the story by the third act. One of the challenges faced by Danny is to get confessions from battle hardened soldiers trained to withstand various methods of torture, but those moments are glossed over with each man readily admitting their guilt. A romantic subplot is also thrown in because the rules of formulaic storytelling require one. While it’s nice to hear the lovely Yvonne Strahovski (from NBC’s Chuck) speak with her native Aussie accent, she’s absolutely wasted as the girl who pines for her man whenever he’s away.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The transfer is superb and really captures incredible details like the stubble on Statham’s face and the dusty sands of the desert. Killer Elite looks really slick with a muted and cold color palette meant to mimic the look of a 70’s political thriller.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The high definition sound is really robust with thundering gunfire and rattling explosions.
The Combo Pack includes about ten minutes of deleted scenes, a DVD version of the film, and download codes for a Digital Copy for Apple devices and Ultraviolet copy.