Friday, September 23, 2011

Killer Elite (2011) - Movie Review

More intricate than a typical Jason Statham actioner, Killer Elite successfully maintains a surprising degree of intrigue and intensity, not through an overly clever storyline, but with an air of unpredictability within its characters. It's obvious that nothing will turn out the way it seems, but with a cast comprised of so many vicious killers, keeping track of which ones are the real heroes becomes an entertaining quest. While the plot bogs itself down from time to time with an abundance of twists and a location change every five minutes, the seasoned actors will hold your interest - at least until the next adrenaline-filled action sequence can take over.

The past has a way of catching up with you. No one knows this better than Danny Bryce (Jason Statham), a former mercenary who's forced out of retirement to save his old mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro). When an exiled oil sheik kidnaps Hunter, Danny must carry out the tyrant's request - track down and kill the three British S.A.S. officers responsible for the murders of his sons. Gathering his old partners Davies (Dominic Purcell) and Meier (Aden Young), Bryce begins his lethal task while Spike (Clive Owen), the equally exacting enforcer of the secret watchdog society "The Feather Men", attempts to stop him (this movie is based on Ranulph Fiennes' novel The Feather Men, and not the 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie, The Killer Elite).

Like The Bank Job, Killer Elite is one of the least Jason Statham-like Jason Statham movies produced so far, thanks to a complex story, sinister political undercurrents, the slightest bit of a nonfiction basis (at least a few of the names are real), and strong supporting roles. An extremely protracted fistfight in a darkly lit hospital, where both lead characters take a tremendous beating (but manage to shake it off in the very next scene), impressive stunts (including the ever popular parkour), and destructive car chases ensure that the fundamental aspects viewers expect from Statham are still present. It's actually unfortunate that he can't quite rid himself of those inclusions, although his acting abilities probably couldn't singlehandedly support a serious drama.

"I'm done with killing," nobly states Danny, bearing his true self as a mercenary with a conscience, a hitman with a heart of gold. Rather than observing the effects death and carnage have on trained assassins, like Munich (with a similar political tie-in), Ronin (also starring De Niro), or more recently, In Bruges, this espionage film prefers to have characters describe their feelings to the audience. It's blatant and unconvincing when Danny is scripted to explain that killing is simply his occupation and that it doesn't define his ethos or disposition. These tired themes weigh heavily on the fun of the adventure sequences, which already take a backseat to the slow but nonstop chase, hunt, and plotting of hit list targets; when De Niro is given a chance to off a few baddies, it's to the sound of applauding fans. It's obvious what sparks enthusiasm from target audiences. Killer Elite does boast hostage situations, secret British societies, spy games, government conspiracies, tricky assassinations, covert operations, a partially sympathetic antagonist, and trigger-happy operatives - all the ingredients for an entertaining thriller - but little of it is unexpected.


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