‘Killer Elite’ review: When does the War end?

By Margaret Clayton


Publicists for the new action thriller “Killer Elite” market it as a “shocking true story,” as the content is based on the non-fiction text “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes, the truthfulness of which has been contested since its first publication in the early 1990s.

The film chronicles the career of Danny Bryce (Jason Statham), an assassin who makes a statement in the first five minutes of screen time that he “can’t do this anymore” while staring at the blood on his hands from his most recent hit. However, his loyalty to his mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), drags him back into the game when Hunter is being held by an Arab oil sheikh until a job is completed. This task is supposed to close the book on a questionable operation by the British Special Air Service (SAS) in Oman years ago, but ends up creating a bloody trail across the globe, from Australia to Oman to France to England. Danny encounters opposition from Spike (Clive Owen), an ex-SAS trying to protect his friends, and when the hunter becomes the hunted, enter the film’s tagline, “May the best man live.”

On the lead’s first visit to Oman, he says, “I have wealth and power and I’m going to die,” as if it should carry weight in Danny’s decision to take the job. There are six million reasons in a briefcase, but Danny has sworn off the killing lifestyle. Anyone would kill to save De Niro though, so agreements are made and the chase begins. The price of blood and risk of loss weigh heavily on his mind every time Danny is traveling between locations – which tends to always be in the window seat of the right hand side of the plane. His memory is jogged to his interactions with a girl named Anne (Yvonne Strahovski) back in Australia who seems to be dropped in for sentimental value, as Danny claims he has no dependents when starting this high-risk caper.

Danny tells a kid before his first job that, “Killing’s easy, living with it’s the hard part” calling perspective into a kind of action that hasn’t been seen since the “Bourne” trilogy. Oman in 1980 could easily represent Libya in 2011 with the questionable intervention of outside governments and the secrets no one hears about. That transparency gives depth to the shoot-‘em-up action that is “Killer Elite.”

The film is rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity, as expected. Even so, audiences might not be prepared for the high level of visual violence. With realistic blood, explosions, car accidents, knives, head bludgeoning, and more accessories than targets being hit, this is non-stop “bang bang” stuff. De Niro does not see much of the action, as he is locked in a cell for most of the film, leading audiences to believe he’s lost his A-game, but there is a late rally with some big hits.

The movie is about 20 minutes too long with multiple moments of, “Okay, it’s over,” only to be followed by an unexpected bullet that ricochets the plot back into its high-adrenaline pace. With an emphasis on attitude and muscular bravado in the trailer, “Killer Elite” is surprisingly plot and character-based. Director Gary McKendry starts and ends his piece with a black screen and white type laying out the story and speculation, opening it up for the audience to make their own predictions and conclusions, but also driving a story that is more convoluted than “good guys and bad guys.”

For instance, Danny’s agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is an ambiguous character who isn’t even given a name. The fact that there are agents like this makes these characters untouchable celebrities in their own underground society, the kind of society that does not die even when you’ve been charged as physically disabled like Spike. Additionally, the theme of what life is like for veterans who find their stories plastered on the news daily, their roles questioned, and little support when they return from the horrors of war is present throughout as well.

Statham takes his role in “Killer Elite” to prove himself one of the top action stars of today. While you’re along for the ride, though, don’t close your eyes at the gory scenes, or you’ll be in the dark for an hour and a half.

Margaret Clayton can be reached at [email protected]