Killer Elite. See, they dropped the 'The' to help us out. Throwing me for a loop even more was that the stories sounded somewhat similar. The more recent Killer Elite looked pretty generic to me, but I've been in a bit of a slump at Netflix lately so I thought I'd give it a try. Not a classic, but it was much better than I anticipated.
It's 1980 and after a mission doesn't go off quite as planned, mercenary Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) decides to leave the business and heads home to Australia. A year later, he finds out that his old partner, Hunter (Robert De Niro), is being held prisoner for not completing a high-paying but risky job. Danny takes the job on to save his friend. Working for a Middle Eastern sheikh, Danny must avenge the deaths of the deposed sheikh's three sons, the deaths coming at the hands of SAS (British Special Forces) agents. He must not only kill them, but get taped confessions in the process. With some help from his former team, Danny goes about finding them, but he isn't privy to the whole scenario. Waiting for him is a former SAS agent with a shadowy past, Spike (Clive Owen), who will do his best to protect his former partners too.
Based on the novel The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes, 'Elite' is supposedly based on real-life events. The Feather Men were a group of mercenary vigilantes who did all sorts of shady things, most of them helping protect others from killers and murderers. Now whether it's true or not is one thing. Take it's honesty however you want it -- it is certainly possible -- but what surprised me is how much I liked the movie. Set in 1980, it has the distinct feel of a 1980s action movie. No frills, no wasted efforts, and little to no sense of humor. All the characters aren't black and white, but shades of gray, and the world is one nasty place where everyone is in it for themselves. There are some twists toward the end that work pretty well, but as far as action movies go, it rises above the majority of those released recently.
This may sound odd concerning an action movie, but I liked the look and feel of 'Elite.' Director Gary McKendry -- in his first feature film -- does a great job of setting things up. He shot the movie on-location in Wales, England and Australia, and it doesn't have that generic look of 'been there, seen that.' With a story set in 1980, it actually feels like 1980 whether it be the clothes, the bad hair cuts, or even the throwback cars that make the chases that much more interesting. Throw in a solid score from Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek -- seemingly channeling Hans Zimmer's Inception score at times -- and you've got all the makings of a real winner.
With all those shadowy good/bad guys, McKendry certainly must have had some fun casting. All the sudden, it feels like Jason Statham is in every movie hitting theaters, but I'm a fan, and I'm okay with that. His steely-eyed, cold mercenary is what Statham does best. He glares and sneers, growls his lines, and when needed kicks/punches/shoots anyone in his way. Like some of his other movies though, it isn't mindless fight scenes repeated one after another. The fights have something to do with a...wait for it...story! As his SAS opponent, Clive Owen again shows he can be an action star. He's a great actor, but with roles like this that allow him to have some fun, he doesn't disappoint. Rocking an epic mustache, Owen's Spike is an enforcer of sorts for what the book dubbed 'the Feather Men.' We learn very little about him or his background other than that he's extremely capable and a highly dangerous man.
And then's there Robert De Niro.....freaking De Niro! It's great to see him play more mainstream, commercial roles too. Now are these especially good parts? No, not in the least. Playing Hunter, Danny's mentor and former partner, De Niro isn't exactly phoning it in, but it's close. He has some great one-liners and does have a good give-and-take with Statham. It's really more of a cameo than anything as he disappears for long stretches. Other worthwhile parts go to Dominic Purcell as Davies, the hot-headed Welshman (with handlebar mustache, epic sideburns, nasty, greasy hair), and Aden Young as Meier, the quiet killer, two former members of Danny's team now working with him once again. Star of TV's Chuck, Yvonne Strahovski plays Anne, the love interest that Danny must protect when threatened. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has a good part too as Agent, Danny's link for jobs and missions around the world.
Struggling in theaters -- making around $25 million -- and receiving mixed to negative reviews, Killer Elite is probably doomed to the $5 bin of movies at Wal-Mart. It's too bad because while not a classic, it is very watchable and I enjoyed it. Maybe it's that throwback feel to 1980s action movies or a solid cast working so well together, but I'd recommend this one. It isn't the tongue in cheek, over the top action movie that trailers and commercials presented it as. Cool globe-trotting cast, great action, and a solid and possibly true story.
Killer Elite <---trailer (2011): ***/****