Killer Elite **
Directed by: Gary McKendry.
Written by: Matt Sherring based on the book by Ranulph Fiennes.
Starring: Jason Statham (Danny), Clive Owen (Spike), Robert De Niro (Hunter), Dominic Purcell (Davies), Aden Young (Meier), Yvonne Strahovski (Anne), Ben Mendelsohn (Martin), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Agent).
The opening of Killer Elite informs us that it is based on a true story, and I had no trouble believing that in broad strokes that may well be true. This is a story of professional killers, both private contractors and government issued, although there is little difference between the two. Both are amoral, but for one at least, the killing starts to weigh on him. Had they decided to make a serious movie out of the material, it could have been an intelligent thriller. Instead, what they have done is made an action movie. So, yes, in broad strokes, some of this could be believed. But the details provided by the movie are fairly preposterous.
The movie stars Jason Statham, which should tell you all you need to know about what kind of movie this is. Whatever promise and talent Statham showed in the past, has pretty much given way to his desire to make nothing but breakneck action movies – and this is another one. He is the private contract killer, mentioned above, named Danny. He works alongside Hunter (Robert DeNiro) but the job that opens the film takes whatever love he had for his job and kills it. He has to kill a father in front of his son, and even if he was a bad man, no kid deserves to be there when his father is murdered. So Danny retires to Australia, where he falls in love. But then he gets a message. Hunter has been captured, and will be killed unless he agrees to do one final job. The pay will be $6 million, but he doesn’t care about that. He cares about Hunter. So he goes to the Middle East, to the estate of a wealthy dying man, who wants the men who killed three of his four sons murdered. The catch is that they are British Army officers, and Danny needs to get them to confess, and then make their deaths look like accidents. Danny, being so good, is able to do that, but Spike (Clive Owen) is not fooled. He is a former soldier himself, now working for a group of ex-special forces known as the “Feathermen”. He wants the murderer of his friends dead.
There is all sorts of potential in this story. Watching the film, I thought that had they played it straight, instead of pumping up the action, this could have made an intelligent thriller not unlike Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Instead however, director Gary McKendry seems to want to have as many firefights, car chases, fist fights and explosions as possible in the movie. And while he handles them well enough, there is nothing here to differentiate the film from dozens of other action films. It’s serviceable, and you won’t be bored, but there’s no real reason to watch it either.
For the actors, Killer Elite is the definition of a paycheck movie – they could not have possibly thought that they were making a great film when they signed up for it, and none of them add very much to it. Statham does what Statham does – and for me, his tough guy (with a sensitive guy buried underneath) act has grown tired. I simply don’t care anymore. Clive Owen is going through the motions here – as an actor, he has gravitas, but his underwritten role either doesn’t allow him to use it, or else he simply doesn’t care enough. And then there’s Robert DeNiro, who still has to rank as my favourite actor of all time, although I must admit that in the past 14 years (since his duel great 1997 performances in Wag the Dog and Jackie Brown) has simply been phoning it in (with the exception of his great directorial effort The Good Shepherd and his work in the underrated Stone from last year). Why DeNiro has decided not to push himself anymore, I have no idea, but it’s disappointing. Here, his role could be played by any older actor – he brings nothing special to it.
Overall, I was more bored by Killer Elite than anything else. It’s certainly not a horrible film – it serves as a time waster, nothing more. But with Owen and DeNiro involved, I was hoping for something more. Perhaps its time to stop hoping for something more from DeNiro.