If there is one group keeping the old hard-boiled action film alive, it would be the British. Directors like Guy Ritchie, Martin Campbell and Matthew Vaughn and actors like Jason Statham, Russel Crowe, Gerald Butler, Clive Owen and Daniel Craig helped to keep the genre alive while Hollywood fixates on half-assed thrillers and wrecks the rest by turning them into star vehicles for actors and actresses that have no business headlining an action film. The results of these action films are quite often a thing of beauty, including action classics like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, The Transporter, Snatch and even the recent reboot of the Bond franchise. So when I first saw the trailers for Killer Elite, I was thrilled.
Spearheaded by directorial rookie Gary McKendry and by brand new movie studio Open Road Films, trailers for the movie started popping up in the summer, and as soon as I saw the trailer, I was hooked. Three of my favorite actors, Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro, are lined up for the cast. The film itself looks to have everything a good solid action film should have, that is brutal fight scenes, explosions and gunfire, snarky one-liners and an Eastern European woman for the love interest. So naturally, I go as fast as I can to see it opening night.
So is Killer Elite a high-octane action flick worthy of its name, or will this action film go out not with a bang, but a whimper? Read on and find out dear readers, in this review of Killer Elite!
The movie takes place during the early 1980s, primarily following the actions of a professional assassin by the name of Danny (Jason Statham). Despite having called it quits after a mission in Mexico, he is forced out of his early retirement when his former partner and mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) is captured and help prisoner by an Omani sheik. To secure his release, the sheik asks for him to avenge the deaths of his three sons at the hands of three specific members of the SAS, by getting them to confess to the crime, and then executing them for it – while making the deaths look like accidents. Opposing him is Spike Logan (Clive Owen), an enforcer for a group of SAS veterans, trying his best to keep his brothers-in-arms out of the assassins cross-hairs.
I will admit it, the story was not at all what I was expecting. I went in expecting a shoot-em up action thriller, and got a black-ops thriller – and it was better for it. The plot managed to be clever and leave you wondering what would happen next without delving into over-complexity like so many thrillers tend to these days. Plus, despite it’s grim subject matter, there are a few genuinely funny moments in the movie, mainly bits of witty banter between characters. This was helped greatly by the fact much of the cast came off as morally ambiguous, and no member of the cast is clear-cut good or evil. While nothing innovative, and having an anti-climactic finale, the story was well executed and a cut above the Hollywood thriller norm.
As for the acting, the film proved a pleasant surprise. Jason Statham gives one of his better performances as the world-weary assassin Danny. Then you have Robert De Niro as his his typically enjoyable self, playing the mentor/father figure Hunter, providing much of the films humor and serious moments. Clive Owen goes against his more typical roles, and does superbly as a bitter ex-soldier not quite sure what to do with himself now that he’s a civilian. Although far more Statham focused than the trailers would have you to believe, the three of them make fine protagonists, and the movie is helped by a strong performance from the supporting cast, in spite of not really having any known actors or actresses involved.
As for the behind-the-scenes work, it’s about average, with a few pleasant surprises. The action scenes are top notch, with the fight scenes all displaying a particular bloody brutality, no surprise when you remember the cast. The pacing is good, giving enough time to flesh out scenes, yet never moving too slowly. Most impressively, the special effects look to be minimal, a rarity for films these days. The result is every car chase, fight scene or explosion looks like it is within the realm of possibility. Another thing is that is worth mentioning is there is an impressive level of detail given to making sure the setting looks like the 1980s, with everything from cars and guns to wristwatches made to be historically accurate.
Overall, I gotta admit, while not at all what I was expecting, the film proved to be enjoyable to me anyway. There was good action, decent acting, and a few pleasant surprises about the film. Though it could have been better, this was mainly due to missed potential, not any fault of the film itself. As a whole, I got exactly what a came for: a solid above average action flick worth ticket price. If you’re in the mood for such a film, Killer Elite will do just fine to satisfy you.