I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Killer Elite

tn_killerelite(KILLER ELITE is enjoyable if unspectacular. Luckily it’s more in the vein of the sort-of-classy studio action thrillers like THE BANK JOB than the gloomy Millennium Pictures joints I halfway expected it to be like. So it co-stars Robert DeNiro, the legendary actor, and not Robert DeNiro, that old man from the 50 Cent movies. But the star is definitely Jason Statham, looking exactly the same in 1980-81 as he does in any other time period (minus the track suit).

Statham plays an assassin-formerly-for-hire trying to settle down in Australia (the ol’ “I almost shot a kid and had to get out of the game” routine) when he’s summoned to Dubai so a dying oil sheik (who looks as cartoonish as the Arabs in THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC) can offer to pay him 6 million (American?) dollars to go to London and assassinate the former S.A.S. officers who blew up three of his sons out in the Oman desert years ago. Oh yeah, and I know you’re retired so to show my appreciation I will also release your mentor (DeNiro) who I have as my prisoner. Have fun!

The Stath puts together a team and starts his series of tricks and ambushes of the Brits on his hit list. They have to be clever about it because they have to first get a videotaped confession, then kill them but have it look like an accident. That’s hard enough, but another ex-S.A.S. guy who’s not on the list (Clive Owen) stumbles across their suspicious snooping and starts interfering with their whole plot. So there are some fights, some car chases, some guns.

mp_killereliteI like how the posters and the DVD/blu-ray cover tell you the most important thing you need to know: these are some guys that wear sunglasses and shoot guns. But they leave off my favorite member of the sunglass-wearing/gun-shooting team: Dominic Purcell, believe it or not, in a role a little better than I’ve seen him in before. He wears a ridiculous mustache and sideburns well and they adapt organically into his disguises as he fakes a couple different nationalities. (Nobody buys his Welsh, though.) He has a really good comedic moment where he’s on a beach with his gut hanging out and fakes an ice cream cone accident to cover letting the air out of a tire.

Owen’s part is interesting because if they edited the scenes in a different order he would be the good guy. Statham and team are introduced first, so we identify with them, but they’re guilty of the exact same kind of murders these S.A.S. guys are being avenged for (“I’m just glad I never did a raghead,” Purcell says – a racist way of admitting that they could easily be the ones on the list). In his circle Owen is the perceptive one who figures out there’s a plot afoot, and that nobody will listen to. He even gets set up to take a fall for them – the whole hero thing. He could be Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. He’s totally the good guy.

He does have a mustache though, that’s the only thing that really makes him evil. He has a glass eye too, but you notice the mustache first.

One detail I like is the tension between Clive and the emerging punk culture in Britain. In one scene he’s in a bar and some punks turn on the juke box while he’s trying to watch a news report about a dead soldier. He yells at them for having no respect. In a funnier scene a crazy old ex-S.A.S. guy beats the shit out of four skinheads for keying his car.

I’m happy to report that this doesn’t have all the dull trappings of modern action. There is some color in it, some sunshine, some variation in locations. Some of the face-to-face fights are a little shaky, but overall the action is pretty old fashioned workmanlike, for better or worse. There are some suspenseful sequences (like when they gotta force two other vehicles into an accident) and some good moves (bread loaf silencer, tied-to-chair-flip, tunnel chase hornet’s nest elbow [done by Ben Mendelsohn, the most evil guy from ANIMAL KINGDOM]).

DeNiro’s a prisoner for most of the movie but does manage to be involved in a couple big shoot outs and later has a scene where he uses his charm to keep Statham’s girl (Yvonne Strahovski) from panicking. Like the movie itself this mentor character is not exactly one of the greats, but is pretty likable. I like how he calls 44 year old Statham “kid” or “kiddo” all the time, and how he decides he has to go back to get his watch during an escape attempt.

This KILLER ELITE has nothing to do with the Sam Peckinpah movie THE KILLER ELITE. It’s adapted from a 1991 book called “The Feather Men” by Ralph and Joseph Fiennes’s third cousin Sir Ranulph Fiennes. That sounds made up, but it’s true. That’s the guy’s name and he really is related to them. The book was promoted as non-fiction even though the words “FACT OR FICTION?” were on the cover and that seems to be sort of a self answering question. You wouldn’t put that on the cover of “Angela’s Ashes.” From summaries of the book it sounds like it’s different from the movie in that the assassinations take place over 17 years, and Clive Owen probly is the good guy. His group are called “The Feather Men” and they save Sir Fiennes from being killed by what would be Statham’s group, “The Clinic.” In the movie I guess his character is one of the ones that gets killed. The text at the end still claims it’s a true story, so maybe out of spite Fiennes now says it was all made up.

Anyway, KILLER ELITE’s not bad. You could do worse. I guess it made sense to put Statham in the remake of THE MECHANIC because he really is putting together a body of work that in a way makes him the closest thing we have to a modern Charles Bronson. Or at least a white Jim Brown. He just needs some more DEATH WISHes under his belt. But he’s got a bunch of THE EVIL THAT MEN DOs.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 at 3:53 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Killer Elite”

  1. I can’t help but find it weird that they would adapt an obscure book from 1991 into a movie today

  2. As I’ve said before (perhaps too often), this is one of my favorite films of last year. And I think this and Blitz shows that Statham can keep on working after he’s too old to do the high kicks.

  3. Griff, I think you’ll find that it’s not that obscure in that world called Book Land. Even I had heard about it before I saw the film.

  4. wabalicious monkeynuts

    January 10th, 2012 at 4:57 am

    I rolled my eyes in disgust at the bit where Clive Owen goes to his bosses in The Committee or whatever it’s called, and one of the gives the WORST piece of expository dialogue ever. Something along the lines of “Spike, you are a member of this secret society who have sworn to protect ex-members of the SAS at all costs, blah blah blah”. Not a great film at all, but the last 20 minutes was very good.

    I think if it had a different director it could have been a lot better. My fellow countryman Gary McKendick seems to have just gone with the first take on every scene and not pushed for any refinement in the performances. Statham is great, as usual (just being Stath, as usual; if you like him, you like him, if not this won’t change your mind), De Niro is good value, but Clive Owen was the stand-ou here for me. I’m not normally a fan, because i think he is the most wooden actor alive. Sometimes it works, like in Children of Men or Shoot ‘Em Up, but normall i think he’s shit. Here he brings a bit of humanity to a part that would normally just be bad guy/killing machine no.1.

  5. Shit?! That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?

  6. In movies about assassins, everyone’s always quitting over almost killing a kid/killing a kid. Why don’t the assassin training programs just teach these motherfuckers to kill kids? I mean, seriously. First day of assassin school should totally be, “Here’s a kid. Shoot him in the head.”

    If you won’t do it, then you have to leave because someday you’re gonna get your panties in a bunch and quit assassin-ing over this same moral dilemma. Like, 99.5% of movie assassins quit over the issue of child murder. You would think that wouldbe assassins would have figured out that kids are eventually gonna get in the way. You know?

  7. Movie was surprisingly good. The first 20 minutes put me to sleep twice so wasn’t expecting it to pan out so well. Good point about Owen too.

    More happy though that you finally namin Statham the modern Charles Bronson instead of Trejo. Trejo’s not close to anyone from that era, but if accepting only a couple factors would be closest to being the new Bruce Lee if anyone at all if we talkin 70’s. Killer Elite, Blitz, The Bank Job, The Italian Job, Chaos, 13, The Expendables, and dare I say, The Mechanic are all pretty Bronsonesque movies.

  8. Comparing this to The Bank Job makes me want to see it now. I really liked The Bank Job more than I thought I would.

  9. I was dissapointed about this movie. I don’t think the action is good, the editing is pretty bad sometimes and the shaky cam too. Statham is cool as always and Owen was great but that’s all, I thought it was boring.

  10. I’ve liked Staham in everything I’ve seen him in, but it’s the kind of enjoyment that always has an edge of amusement underlying it, like I’m impressed that he is able to walk upright and form complete sentences. Sort of like when my cat manages to get into my sock drawer.

    Also, I think Statham is way too roly poly to be a modern Bronson. On his meanest day he’s nothing more than a badass King Ralph. That’s what’s so charming about him.

  11. Sir Ranulph Fiennes is one of the most badass real-life badasses to walk the earth. Seriously, that’s one hard ol’ Englishman. You don’t get the “Sir” in front of your name for nothing.

  12. Forgive me if I’m wrong, Jareth, but did you call Statham fat? I guess I missed the beer gut during the Mechanic sex scene.

  13. I agree, Knox. And so does Sir Elton John and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

  14. ANoniMouse, did you call the Stath’s sex scene mechanic?

  15. No, it’s something more subtle than fat. Statham is a lug. There’s something buffoonish about his lazy gait and the slope of his shoulders, despite his obvious fitness. I was more intimidated by Ben Kingsley in SEXY BEAST than I was of Statham in THE BANK JOB.

    Statham’s muscular in a way that is similar to how Salma Hayek is “curvaceous.” There’s something preposterous about both of them.

    I mean this in the best possible way. If he were just another chiselled dude he’s be pretty boring.

  16. Speaking of King Ralph, I got promos for Red Tails and Coriolanus next week the same night. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go for the Roman thang instead of Star WWII, but I’m wondering if anyone else has seen the battle of Butler Vs Fiennes and can HI5 me that I’m making the right choice. I’m betting the aerial dogfights are gonna be epic but I can’t help but think the story is gonna be better in Fiennes’s work. Also I’m more curious about what he’s like as a director.

  17. “Would you like a lolly?”
    “I’d love a lolly!”
    “Strawberry or fuck you?”

    I laughed at that exchange.

    It was a bizarre, but enjoyable movie. Went in expecting a typical Statham actioner, but instead it went for part character drama, part thriller. Flawed and not the best work for anyone involved, sure, but I applaud the effort for trying something a bit different.

  18. Stef, Coriolanus is really good, but, again, it’s Shakespeare. High-falutin’ badass stuff, original text and everything. For every Ralph Fiennes/Gerard Butler knife fight, there are two Vanessa Redgrave monologues. Okay, there’s only two Fiennes/Butler knife fights, but they’re both superb. And I find it weird that no one talked about Fiennes’ performance in this – he’s a barking bulldog, some of his best work.

    I thought Red Tails was pretty ok, surprisingly good in spots, but it’s definitely more simplistic. I would probably recommend Red Tails to younger audiences, even though I’m sure it packs a punch for adults also. Though I also get the vibe critics are going to be harsh towards it, unreasonably so. The whole “old fashioned aesthetics” vs. “CG-heavy fights” vs. “Who are these actors?”-couched complaints.

  19. Jareth, there’s nothing on this earth scarier than Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast.

  20. Pegsman, I sincerely hope you weren’t making fun of Sit Elton there. That shit will not be tolerated. He gave us Tiny Dancer, goddamnit.

    As for Sir Andrew (or as I like to call him, Lloyd)… well, every now and then the Queen fucks up too.

    Sir Ranulph is still hard as nails, though.

  21. @ Gabe

    Thanks for sharing your opinions. I feel better about my Sophie’s Choice now. I’ll go for the oooo!rahing fanboy flyboy flick laters I guess. It’s just I have a harder time mustering enthusiasm for flicks that look like military propaganda.

    I still like them, just have some cognitive dissonance watching ya know?

  22. Wiki on the badass that is:

    Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE (born 7 March 1944), better known as Ranulph (Ran) Fiennes, is a British adventurer and holder of several endurance records. He is also a prolific writer. Fiennes served in the British Army for eight years including a period on counter-insurgency service while attached to the army of the Sultanate of Oman. He later undertook numerous expeditions and was the first person to visit both the North and South Poles by surface means and the first to completely cross Antarctica on foot. In May 2009, at the age of 65, he climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. According to the Guinness Book of World Records he is the world’s greatest living explorer.

  23. Wait, Guinness can quantitatively grade greatness now? I’m not arguing, this guy sounds totally hardcore, but doesn’t Guinness generally stick with precise measurements and leave the value judgments to lesser publications?

  24. Yes, Guinness can certainly grade greatness. After 4-5 pints I usually feel great, but past 18 I have to go home.

  25. That wiki quote misses my favourite Ranulph Fiennes fact: that he got kicked out of the SAS for attempting to blow up the set of Dr Doolittle. The non-Eddie Murphy version.

    Also, I had low expectations for this film, which meant I loved it. It had me at the brutal testicle punch that ends the statham owen fight. The post-impact collapse accompanied by pained wheeze seemed all too accurate.

  26. Caught this on Netflix Instant b/c I guess Ex2 had me in the mood to see a more, uh…legitimate movie featuring one of its stars. It’s surprisingly good but not great, like a more popcorn-y version of Munich. It’s funny that the trailers sell it like Owen is the villain and kidnapped DeNiro, when as Vern said, some re-arranging of scenes would make Owen the hero. I do kinda wish the movie used that remix of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” the trailer had, though.

    I’m a sucker for movies with that shades-of-gray/”we’re just doing our jobs” vibe, and also movies where the heroes try really hard to just wound and maim the bad guys instead of killing them. This one delivers on both counts, and it’s nice to see Statham involved in a classier movie than Ex2.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>