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November 5, 2011

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Movie Review – Killer Elite (2011)

by NIR SHALEV

Here’s a curious thing: a Jason Statham-labeled “action film” that’s actually plot heavy and is filled with character development (tinges of Munich rather than The Transporter). Yet it fails at the box office because its editing and camerawork aren’t erratic and it doesn’t contain wall-to-wall action sequences.

Based on a true story (aren’t they all?) and a book called The Feather Men, Killer Elite takes place in the early 1980s and tells the story of Danny (Jason Statham), a mercenary who’s decided to retire early due to having almost killed a child on the job; it sounds like a cliché but the film returns to that characteristic later on and turns that aspect of the film on its head.

A year has gone by when Danny’s mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) is taken hostage by an oil sheik from Oman who’s now living in exile. Hunter refused a $6 million job. Now he’s being held captive until Danny completes the complicated task of executing a revenge killing of three ex-British SAS (Special Air Service) operatives. What’s the catch? All three ex-SAS operatives must be killed in ways resembling accidents so that their murders cannot be traced back to the sheik.

It’s a rather ingenious plot and scenario. The first half of the film is dedicated to showing not only how difficult a task Danny has to pull off, but also that these British mercenaries and assassins are experts in kills resembling accidents just as much as in utilizing the straight-ahead approach.

Enter Spike (Clive Owen), another ex-SAS operative who’s not on the sheik’s kill list but belongs to a secret organization called The Feather Men, made up of ex-SAS operatives and ex-military and government men. Once he pieces together that his comrades’ deaths are not accidents, he decides to track down and wage war against Danny, thus becoming the film’s antagonist.

The second half of the film reveals more secrets but again, the revelations never feel forced. As a matter of fact, they help to develop the characters in their quest for the truth: Danny wants to know when the end will be in sight and what the Feather Men are all about and Spike wants to know what Danny’s angle is. And speaking of Danny and Spike, they have a fight sequence roughly halfway into the film that’s hard hitting, believable, and awesome.

The story may seem and feel complex at times, and it kind of is, but every actor speaks very clearly and the characters explain to the audience just enough of what’s going on, here and there, without it seeming like forced exposition. There are bouts of action to be found but unlike the action sequences in typical Statham films, these are more steeped in realism. When he uses close quarters combat, his hits emphasize power and the ability to disable his opponents rather than flamboyant martial arts techniques. When people are shot, they stay down and dead. This film resembles The Bourne Identity (2002) more than The Transporter (2002) or The Expendables (2010), and that’s a good thing because it has a good story to tell, so why not keep the thriller vibe rather than break into bouts of pointless action every 10 minutes?

This is not the action film that I was expecting from seeing the trailers; actual story to action percentage is more like 70/30. This film will definitely do better on video than it did in the theaters and I hope that many people check it out. Not only can Jason Statham deliver a decent performance here and there but he can actually, also choose to be in a good film from time to time.

The best and most unexpected part of all is that Clive Owen’s performance is a large chunk of what sells this film. Spike’s left eye is slightly milky and he has a couple of deep scars on his face, making it look like Clive Owen went to Afghanistan and was hit by a shrapnel grenade. Owen sells that look and personality and is as hard hitting as Statham, making their characters equals and always allowing the audience to tell apart the good guys from the bad guys.

3 stars


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 5 2011

    I thought this was just another 0-8-15 action film, but what you write seems good. It’s always nice to find some decent action films because it won’t be hard to convince someone to watch them with you.

  2. Nov 5 2011

    Absolutely correct. The critics were waaaaay off on this one.
    I hope that you check it out and I hope that you enjoy it as I have.

    Btw, what does 0-8-15 mean?

  3. Nov 6 2011

    Should have been a lot more distinct and different, but instead it was just another Jason Statham action vehicle with Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro aka the dude who needs to fire his agent right now. Good review Nir.

  4. Nov 6 2011

    I beg to differ. Having read your review, it seems to be exactly the opposite of mine which begs the question: were you paying attention throughout the film? Or did you write your review based on the trailer? I’m not trying to sound mean but your plot synopsis had nothing to do with the film’s actual plot.

    Danny doesn’t have to dodge 3 assassins; he needs to assassinate 3 ex-SAS soldiers and make it look like they were killed in accidents. Spike (Owen) was part of their regiment and he’s angry that his friends are being murdered, which is why he’s going against Statham. And I didn’t find it dull at all, it was remarkably interesting MAINLY because it’s not an action film.

    I found it to be a refreshing take on a dying genre. Action + Thriller +Good Story – Action = success. :O)

  5. May 22 2012

    Finally caught up with this (thank you Netflix streaming). I don’t dislike Statham and have enjoyed many of his action films, as you know. However, as an actor he’s simply not in the same class as Owen and De Niro and it really shows in their scenes together.

    This was still good though. The parallels between Danny and Spike verged on overly schematic but stayed on the right side of effective. Danny is the “good” guy (and is a good guy, post-retirement) but one of his friends, to whom he is completely loyal, is a trigger-happy sociopath with no compunctions about killing innocent people. On the flip side, the ex-SAS targets have blood on their hands but Spike is in the right in trying to stop extra-judicial killings. The handler who can’t be trusted is a genre convention but the movie handled it nicely (pardon the pun) on both sides.

  6. May 22 2012

    I told you that it’s not the traditional run of the mill action film, let alone the traditional Statham actioner. :O)

    And I love that Spike (Own) eventually becomes the protagonist of the picture and doesn’t start as a cliched villain; his character has a reason to become who he becomes and I found that the film has, surprisingly good character development, albeit it can seem cliched here and there.

    I’m glad that you liked it, Helen.

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