Judge Mike Rubino is always thrilled when Robert DeNiro tags along.
"Killing's easy. Living with it's the hard part."—Danny
It's easy to make assumptions about Killer Elite, which comes off in advertisements as just another generic Jason Statham vehicle (that's an Audi 8, right?). In actuality, this "true story" is a smart spy thriller with a 1980s setting and a 1970s action sensibility.
Facts of the Case
Danny (Jason Statham, The Bank Job) and Hunter (Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull) have been contract killers long enough to know when its time to call it quits. Getting out of the business proves to be difficult when a vengeful sheikh from Oman kidnaps Hunter and forces Danny into one last job: he has to kill the three retired British SAS agents that murdered the sheikh's sons.
Standing in Danny's way is Spike (Clive Owen, Children of Men) and The Feather Men. They're a secret group of ex-SAS operatives that act as protectors to their fellow retirees, and Spike is their young-ish, idealistic, one-eyed leader. What was originally a simple contract kill turns into a complex game of cat-and-mouse that reaches further and deeper than anything Danny anticipated.
Killer Elite is based on the book The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The novel claims to be based on true events.
From the outset, Killer Elite has the air of a classic action thriller. You've got a world-class mercenary who is dragged from retirement for "one last mission." There's an old mentor character who's used as bait, and then proves he still has what it takes to kick butt. Throw in some car chases, a conspiracy theory, and some excessively curious facial hair and you've got yourself a film that is solid through-and-through.
At the core of Killer Elite is the rivalry between Statham and Owen. Both actors have had their share of action flicks, and seeing these British heavyweights face off is a dream come true—these guys pull off everything from hand-to-hand combat in a hospital to a breakneck chase in retro cars. What's interesting, from a plot standpoint, is the emphasis on Statham's Danny as the film's hero (or anti-hero, technically). In any other film, Spike would be the vigilante hero, trying to protect his SAS friends. Here, he appears an adversary and competitor in the way that detective characters often are. It's an interesting dynamic that gives Danny and Spike a bit more depth and motivation; the audience has to question which of these killers are doing the right thing.
Killer Elite doesn't slow down. From the moment Danny is sent on his mission to the film's final standoff, it's one set-piece after another. Danny assembles a team of mercenaries, and they go on a series of Mission: Impossible-style adventures involving gadgets, split-second timing, and plenty of mistakes. All the while, Spike is on the hunt. If there is an unnecessary element to this otherwise lean film it's Robert DeNiro's Hunter. I understand that he's the reason Danny goes on these missions in the first place, but DeNiro feels a little miscast in the role. Hunter is in the film so sparingly that you almost forget DeNiro is there.
This is director Gary McKendry's first feature film and he does an outstanding job with it. Stylistically it's fairly straight forward, but he pulls off the 1981 time period and globetrotting with subtle believability—you aren't being beaten over the head with costumes and stereotypes. He also doesn't try to elevate the film to anything unjustified. This is a spy flick and action thriller, and it is more than comfortable wearing those hats.
Killer Elite (Blu-ray) comes with both a standard definition DVD and a digital copy of the film. The 2.40:1/1080p high-def transfer is admirable, if a little too noisy. The film's coloring can be fairly washed-out, but that seems to be more of an artistic decision than any fault of the transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally good, with plenty of emphasis on explosions and dialogue. The film's score is generally forgettable and the mix doesn't give it any more attention than what's necessary.
The only supplement on the disc is a collection of deleted scenes. Those looking for more info on The Feather Men will just have to check out the book.
Killer Elite surprised the heck out of me. It's a fun, exciting spy thriller with a great cast, an engrossing plot, and more than enough excitement. A must-see for action fans.
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• Deleted Scenes
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