Jason Statham as Danny Bryce
Clive Owen as Spike
Yvonne Strahovski as Anne
Robert De Niro as Hunter
Dominic Purcell as Davies
Adewale Akinnyoye-Agbaje as The Agent
Grant Bowler as Captain James Cregg
Matthew Nable as Pennock
Chris Anderson as Finn
Directed by Gary McKendry
Once upon a time, before he went trekking out across the Arctic and Antarctic, Sir Ranulph Fiennes was a British army officer who served in a proto-version of the Special Air Service and–according to him anyway–was targeted for death by mysterious mercenaries. The story itself was met by credulity from the special forces community but assassins versus SAS is just too juicy an idea for a good action movie producer to pass up. So we get the “Killer Elite.”
It would seem obvious that film version would be told from the SAS point of view the typical macho, patriotic soldier kind of thing as they tried to discover the dastardly fiends hunting them down and giving them what for. So it’s a little surprising that instead we follow a good deal of the film from the eyes of assassin Danny Bryce (Jason Statham), one of the world’s best killers and the man tasked with killing some of England’s best soldiers. A dying sheik whose sons were killed by the SAS during anti-Communist fighting in Oman wants the perpetrators killed and if Danny ever wants to see his friend and mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) hale and whole again he’s going to have to do it.
It’s a potentially ambiguous set-up how do you make the soldiers seem worthy of death? how do you make the killers suitably protagonist like? that we very seldom get in action movies. That kind of fantasy is much more visible in black and white than grey-on-grey. And if that were the only real risk first time feature director Gary McKendry took, he’d get a lot of points just for that.
Actually, that is the only risk he takes. To be fair, he does run with it quite a long ways, even to the point of bringing in a second protagonist in the form of former Special Forces soldier Spike (Clive Owen), who is trying to track down the killers and stop his friends and comrades from being murdered. Played to the hilt, this would be the stuff of actual drama; Both men have fairly understandable reasons for doing what they’re doing, which also makes it impossible for them to ever do anything but try and kill each other.
That’s as far as “Killer Elite” is willing to go, however. For all the ambiguity the plot seems to want to revel in, it doesn’t have the guts to deal with the fall-out of having rival protagonists, and in the end cops out anytime the least hint of bitterness creeps into the picture.
It doesn’t help that writer Matt Sherring has surrounded an actually interesting plot with a lot of the normal action movie silliness, possibly trying to make the difficult stuff go down easier. Danny has a lot of the world weary, quiet soul, hard man stuff going for him every Jason Statham character does. Danny doesn’t really want to be a killer any more; it’s gotten to be too much for his soul. He just wants to go back to his girlfriend and his farm in Australia and raise sheep, or some such. I can’t help but feel that there actually is a good actor somewhere inside Jason Statham struggling to get out, but the work keeps getting in the way. It’s particularly noticeable in the scenes he shares with Owen who takes no prisoners throughout.
In fact, the best portion of the film is their first meeting as a car chase rapidly devolves into a no-holds barred beat down inside a surgery ward with no blow too low. The action in general is top notch, turning gritty ’70s Paris and London into playgrounds for modern day mayhem.
But it can’t get away from the what-might-have-beens. In between the good action and the interesting start, there is a lot of the usual nonsense which will please the odd action film fan but seem stale to anyone who wants a little more meat. “Killer Elite” is doubly frustrating because the meat is there, in plain sight, but no one is willing to do what it takes and risk audience dissatisfaction to get there. That sort of thing is a fine line to walk, but you’ve got to risk all to win all and for all of its bravado, “Killer Elite” just doesn’t have any guts.