Killer Elite (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Killer Elite (2011)

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It is evident to anyone watching Jason Statham’s last few movies that he is striving for something more than his typical action films.  Instead of Death Race or The Transporter, he's going for something with a bit more substance.  Unfortunately, he has never had the breakaway success that affords him working with the top directors and writers in the business.  Instead, he is taking his chances with new or less proven creators and in turn his movies have ranged in quality from very good (The Bank Job) to really awful (Blitz) and his newest film, The Killer Elite, falls somewhere in-between.

Statham plays Danny, an ex special ops agent who is ready to give up his life in the field after one too many jobs.  He is out until he receives a packagethat includes a plane ticket and a picture of his mentor and closest friend, Hunter (Robert De Niro) that proves that he has been taken hostage.  After meeting up with a mysterious handler (Adweale Akinnyoye-Agbaje), Danny learns that Hunter took a $6 million job only to back out at the last moment. His client, a sheik, did not take this well and captured Hunter, refusing to release him until someone does the job for him.  That person ends up being Danny.

The job turns out to be a revenge killing for the sheik.  His three sons were killed in a past war by troops who were not even supposed to be in the battle.   As the sheik says, “the war is over only after both sides say it is,” so he wants Danny to continue the war by getting a confession of guilt out of the three soldiers and then killing them in a way that it looks like an accident.  Danny reluctantly takes the job and recruits some old friends including Davies (Dominic Purcell) to help him do it fast and effectively.

Doing things fast and effectively is fun!

The job becomes more complicated because the men Danny is supposed to kill are SAS members, which is the British equivalent of Navy Seals, which means killing them won’t be simple.  From the start, Davies's inquiries raise the curiosity of Spike (Clive Owen) an ex-SAS soldier and now part of a shadow organization called The Feather Men.   Soon Spike is after Danny and it's a race to see who achieves their goal and who is the last man standing.

As you can tell from the plot synopsis, there are a lot of plots going on in this movie, which is supposedly “based on a true story”, and a lot of it is interesting.  There is a really good movie lurking in the pieces of this film but first-time director Gary McKendry and screenwriter Matt Sherring miss the target by a small margin.  Instead of the movie flowing from story to story and character to character, the movie often lurches, stops, and starts.

Killer Elite also felt like it was laboriously following the outline of how to make an action film, and the patterns become very clear after a bit.  There would be so many minutes of plot followed by an action scene followed by some investigation work by Spike and then finally a quick romantic scene before the whole cycle started up again.  I wanted to get into the story but too often the seams of the movie were way too evident.

Don't look at my seams, please.

The acting for this film was of higher quality than should be expected for a movie in this genre.  Jason Statham gets to do his 'man of few words but many actions' thing and he does it really well.  His Danny seems fed up with the world he lives in, but not sure how to get out.  Clive Owen as Spike once again brings his usual intensity.  He also plays Spike as not so much the villain but an antagonist who is butting up against Danny for just reasons.  Finally, Robert De Niro doesn’t really embarrass himself in a “paycheck role,” but is in so little and does so little that countless actors could have played the part.

The action scenes in the film were done in a workmen light manner that does not bring anything new to the table but are staged well enough.  Much like Fast Five earlier in the year with The Rock and Vin Diesel, Killer Elite builds up to the inevitable showdown between Statham and Owen.  Although the actors gave it their all, the scenes are hampered by the fact it's shot in tight close ups with fast edits, which continues to be the worst thing that has happened to action films.  Instead of seeing the two go at it, you are spending most of the time trying to figure out what is going on.

Owen's moustache is also sadly underutilized.

In the end, the film is balanced evenly between the good (cast, story) and the bad (shoehorned plots, raw filmmaking).  It is the definition of the kind of film that when asked about you would shrug and say it was “okay”.  In other words, if someone would rent it or watch it on TV, they would be pleasantly surprised with the film but it is not something a person must seek out.

I believe Jason Statham is on the right path.  He is trying to find better films and is starting to work with better actors but he is still one step away.  Maybe one day Statham will get to work with a Paul Greengrass or even a hot new talent like Nicolas Winding Refn, but until then, he is destined to be in movies like Killer Elite, a decent film that just has unreached potential.

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Posted by Ryan

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