Top of His Game
Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro all sharing the same screen would make that big fan in me whoop for joy, with the trio wielding guns, sporting shades and being heavily mustached or bearded looking much like any typical action film from India, and you'd know just how entertaining the films from the continent are. But Killer Elite is all seriousness, with a little controversy brewing by the side when novelist Ranulph Fiennes had claimed that the events in his book, and the film, is based on a true story.
But whether you buy that or not, this film will have you figuring whether such clandestine operations and outfit can exist in the first place, and view reported deaths with a more critical eye, especially if they involve those of high profile, or special/secret forces. Here, mercenaries are available for hire to the highest bidder, doing their bit to rid the world in the 80s of its unwanted criminals, dictators and factions within countries. This is a world where nothing is always what it seems, with shadowy objectives and intents by parties all round from individuals, the groups they operate within, and even from the highest levels of government. The opening had Statham's Danny and De Niro's Hunter chilling in what would be a bar, only to serve as the big bang introduction to the first set action piece, where Danny decides to call his life of killing quits after seeing how the innocent get tangled into their job, and getting injured during this hesitation.
Fast forward to a year into his retirement, he gets forced back into the game given a Sheik in Oman had imprisoned Hunter, and for the latter's freedom, Danny has to fish out ex members of Britain's elite Special Air Service involved with killing the Sheik's three sons, and therefore paving the way for his fourth to assume his place as the rightful heir without being gunned down. The challenge laid down is to elicit confessions of their involvement, and making their deaths look like accidents and cannot be linked back to either him nor his son. Sounds like a tall order, but with money at stake and a higher, more important priority to rescue his mentor, Danny assembles his usual crew, and spends the first hour like any heist movie, planning for and executing those plans in great detail.
Which of course led to action sequence after action sequence, but not in the traditional way of a simple shoot them up. Meticulous planning goes into each hit, as well as Clive Owen's Spike, an ex-SAS man himself out to protect his own, and working under the auspices of a clandestine group known as The Feather Men, breathing down hard in trying to unearth who's behind the killings of the people he knew, as well as the true mastermind who ordered the hits. There are two parts to the story, and each were intriguing in its own way, with the first focused on the mission Danny and team had on hand, and the later half on the repercussions when the long arm of Spike and his team managed to close in and run fences around Danny and his team.
Statham versus Owen in at least two fisticuffs were the highlights of the film, and despite a little flaw in shooting the action up close, they were the most intense battles of the lot in the film, which had car chases to close quartered combat. The screenplay by Matt Sherring moves the story at breakneck speed, and rookie feature film director Gary McKendry helms the film like an experienced old hand in keeping the techniques here very old school, since it's set at the crack of the 80s decade. For the action junkie, you may not get the big action spectacles you were probably looking for, but more measured ones because of the conditions set forth by the Sheik. However, if you're up for some thinking man's espionage with shifting and undefined loyalties, spy versus spy type thrillers, like James Bond but minus the corny lines, women and gadgets, then this one is right for you since it pretty much can be rooted in reality, and as a consequence now you may look upon reported deaths with that skeptical eye.
What worked is of course the presence of the three main leads, whether alone like in the case of Statham, who plays the ringleader amongst his group of merry men who go out to do his dirty surveillance and infiltration work, and that of Owen in a similar role but in the opposite camp, or paired opposite each other for that exchange of wisecracks and sizing up of ability. Statham carries the entire film almost on his own given the significant screen time he has as the lead despite shared billing with his co-stars, and it took a while before Owen enters the picture to stamp his own flair into the film. Robert De Niro however had the shortest screen time amongst the trio, but his charisma more than makes up for it, chewing up the screen each time he appears. Yvonne Strahovski plays the lone female token in the film as Danny's main squeeze, though her story arc is quite negligible only to offer Danny a reason to quit his risky life of kill or be killed, and for some token romantic scenes to toss up the series of testosterone filled dialogue or action.
Easily one of the best thrillers set in the Middle East in recent years, with its 80s setting involving oil, power and mercenary brokers, there's this uncanny repetition of history, should this be real as claimed, in what's happening in the Middle East now. Real life is often stranger than fiction, and it surely showed how the bigger fish in the pond can take advantage in the setting of its agenda, at the expense of those at the lower rungs who just have to follow orders. Highly recommended!