Killer Elite is based on an allegedly true story (Ranulph Fiennes’s book, The Feather Men) regarding the assassinations of British Special Air Service (SAS) members. The British government denies the story is true, of course. It doesn’t really seem important, as long as we can get an action-packed Jason Statham movie of out it! And we do: a decently watchable one at that.
It’s 1980. Hunter (De Niro) and Danny (The Stath) are on a hit job in Mexico. Danny is surprised to find a horrified young boy in the car next to the man he just killed. This disturbs the tough assassin— apparently he’s never pictured the people he’s killed as having family members before—and he decides to retire (of course he does.) Unfortunately, Hunter is soon taken hostage; Danny is summoned to Omanby an oil sheik who wants the deaths of his three sons, who died at the hands of SAS agents, to be avenged. The Stath’s gotta un-retire for three last jobs (of course he does.)
I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, especially after the set-up with the typical action movie tropes of ‘coming out of retirement for one last job’ and the protagonist having a moral defence (I was gonna quit for good and then my mentor got kidnapped!) so we’re behind him. Oh, he’s also got a pretty lady back home, too, but I’ll get to that later. However, it exceeded my expectations in terms of the eventually more intricate story and some of the slight turns in plot along the way.
It felt a little long, but overall the pacing was good. The action starts right away and the details are filled in in fits and spurts along the way. I like the caveat that Danny has to get the men to confess their crimes and he has to make their deaths look natural.
Danny also has a few accomplices for his mission. The dynamic of multiple players on each side added nice complexities to the action and gave us a break from Danny doing all of the work himself.
While the story was more interesting than I thought it’d be, that doesn’t mean it’s an outstanding one either. Many of my assumed clichés were there. Danny has a sweet blonde girlfriend who isn’t aware of his occupation. At one point, she claims she doesn’t care about his past: she only cares about being with him now! Yeah, that’s great, until that whole ‘I murdered a bunch of people and they have associates’ thing comes back and murders them in the ass.
The ex-SAS members, with whom Clive Owen attends committee meetings to try and stop The Stath, are kind of dicks for no good reason. They’re the usual shadowy board of white men who are pulling the strings. Their involvement and then lack of involvement was confusing to me (to be fair, I often can’t follow details of who belongs to what organization and what their motives are in modern action movies. Soooo complicated!)
The dialogue had a mix of mediocre jokes (not even cheesy, just not that great) and some other surprisingly smart exchanges. I find humour brings a lot to intense or violent films, and this one was just average. At one point, someone asks if another guy wants a lollipop flavoured with “strawberry or fuck you.” Meh.
I get annoyed when killers are upset when faced with family member dilemmas. Danny is disturbed by the boy in the car at the beginning, and he also seems peeved when he discovers one of the SAS members killed someone in front of their family. Just because the family isn’t always there, doesn’t mean they’re not going to cry when they find out. We’re periodically reminded that Danny is a good guy throughout the film with scenes of him and his lady friend or at times like this.
Some people have a real problem with shaky cam and I’m one of them. Whenever there was an action scene with hand to hand combat (as opposed to chasing, driving, etc.) suddenly the cameraman starts having a seizure. Fast cuts and loud noises chaotically guide us through each fight scene. It’s not as bad as some, because you can still follow who is hitting who with what object, but there is a serious lack of well-choreographed fight scenes that show off any bitchin’ combat between the stars.
It does the job an action flick is supposed to do: entertain, punchily. Our screening had mostly solo dudes and I would guess they were satisfied. One of them particularly enjoyed the crotch-stab moment and gave a hearty clap. And I particularly enjoyed a moment where someone puts their cigarette out on a bee. It has something for everyone!
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever De Niro makes an appearance
Take a Drink: whenever a character with a mustache makes an appearance
Take a Drink: when the shaky cam bothers you
Take a Shot: whenever someone gets hit in the crotch