Review: Killer Elite
PLOT: Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) is a mercenary, and the protege of veteran soldier-of-fortune, Hunter (Robert De Niro). After retiring, Bryce is pulled back into the game when Hunter is kidnapped by an Arabian Sheik. His demand: that Bryce hunt down and kill the three former SAS soldiers that killed his sons. Accepting the assignment, Bryce ends up in the cross hairs of Spike (Clive Owen), a former SAS officer, who’s now the point man for a secret organization called “The Feather Men”, which is dedicated to protecting former SAS officers, and their families the violent retaliation of their enemies.
REVIEW: KILLER ELITE is a much more interesting film than I thought it would be. The trailers make this look like your typical Jason Statham bone-cruncher, but it's actually closer to something like THE BANK JOB. Sure, it's action-packed, but it aspires to be a little different too, with it's plot coming from an allegedly fact-based book called THE FEATHER MEN, written by ex-SAS officer Ranulph Fiennes (Ralph's third cousin).
The trailers that make this look like Statham's the good guy going up against an evil Clive Owen totally misrepresent the film. If anything, Statham and De Niro are kind-of the villains, as they're hired killers looking to kill (albeit reluctantly) ex-SAS officers who were only obeying orders. In a way, his character isn't that different from the one he played in THE MECHANIC, and he's humanized by his reluctance to kill and his (somewhat tacked-on) romance with Yvonne Strahovski's civilian character. Of course, Statham's still the star, but a good chunk of the movie is more of a DAY OF THE JACKAL-style thriller, as we follow him and his associates as they methodically plan their assassinations. This is easily Statham's best role since THE BANK JOB, and the kind of film that could (and should) take him to the next level as an action star.
That said, Clive Owen's really the “good guy” here, with him being the only one with a truly heroic motivation. His mission is solely to protect his former comrades-in-arms, no matter who gets in his way. Owen's terrific as always, sporting a hard-man mustache, and a bad-ass milked over eye. Physically, I wasn't sure if I would be able to buy him as a threat to Statham, but he pulls it off through a combination of intensity, menace, and well-staged (if a little too close-cut) fight scenes.
Robert De Niro always does quite well as Statham's mentor. I've given him a lot of grief for his recent run of bad films, but KILLER ELITE is a step-up, even if it's a relatively minor role that could have just as easily been played by someone else. De Niro's always been solid in action (just look at RONIN for evidence), and he even acquits himself pretty well physically, engaging in a few short hand-to-hand scraps.
The scene-stealer here is Dominic Purcell, from PRISON BREAK, as one of Statham's cronies; an Aussie hard-man, that sports a wicked handlebar moustache (there is some fine mustachery in this film) and has a major axe to grind with the SAS for booting him out during basic training. Purcell's wildly different here as a swingin' dick, semi-psychopath and it shows more of a range than I thought he had based on PRISON BREAK.
KILLER ELITE is lastly, a very stylish debut for director Gary McKendry. The thing I liked most about the film is that it was faithful enough to Fiennes' book to keep it period. This gives it a unique feel, and the film's CGI-free, grounded action set pieces mesh well with that setting. I'm not so sure I buy the “based on a true story” bit, even though Fiennes himself is worked into the plot towards the end. Regardless, I really enjoyed it. It's a kick-ass action flick that really stands out in Statham's testosterone-packed filmography.