Directed by Gary McKendry
Starring Jason Statham, Robert DeNiro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Written by Matt Sherring
There us a point towards the end of Killer Elite, when the majority of the killers have been killed and Danny Bryce (Statham) goes to collect the person who had been kidnapped, forcing him into action. Two brutes handling the detained, throw him down to the floor as he is trying to adjust his watch. “What’s the matter with you?” Danny says to the two, nameless men, and then he eyes them both, as if they were bouncers at a bar that he had no intention of challenging in any fashion other than philosophically.
It’s this kind of touch, more than anything, that resonates with me while watching the story unfold. His face indicates that some invisible line of decorum is crossed by the brutes by that one-act. This, more than anything, bothered him. Given that they had held him in squalid conditions for weeks, forcing Bryce’s élite brand of killing on an entirely different group, this is saying something. It reminded me of any of the characters in Goodfellas, who did the most heinous things imaginable, but always had a certain brand of morality they played by.
Meanwhile, his longtime partner, Hunter (DeNiro who was prominent in Goodfellas), looks more and more as if he has more days riding in the back of the cart than pulling it. Ironically, it is Hunter who keeps working at the beginning of Killer Elite, which serves as the catalyst for the events. I will go no further than to say the film pits one group of killers versus another, at the pleasure of other parties. The lengths they go to to carry out their tasks is impressive, given that they are forced to get confessions from their victims before killing them and making the death seem accidental. It is this effect that gives the early part of the movie its verve.
Add to this the right counter menace of Clive Owen, playing former SAS agent and current enforcer Spike Logan. His cat and mouse with Bryce leads to an early catch and an interesting fight. Both men work through the event in a labored fashion, as if it really might hurt to have punches and kicks landed on your face and body. The result of this is fight is not to come for another hour or so, and where it goes from there is anything but business. It’s all personal. Owen has never been more fierce. One can feel the pride bursting from every pore. His demeanor is one of righteous indignation spiked with a touch of vengeance.
DeNiro has found new life by not being the main man in this film. His demeanor compliments Statham’s dry sense of humor. Instead of mugging his face all the time like he does in dumb comedies, he is an older, wiser, if not necessarily stronger man of experience. If he keeps playing in films like this, he could crawl out of the slump he’s allowed himself to get in, for the sake of finding work. Another pleasant surprise is Dominic Purcell, who is nearly unrecognizable as Davies, one of Purcell’s compatriots. His performance is a bit on the loony side, but it works.
Not so good is the forgettable performance by Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who has played serious so well for so long, seeing him as a goofy middle man disrupts the flow of the film, but not so much as to take it off the tracks.
The story is deceptively multi-layered, but linear just the same. There are no real tricks, other than reveals, and even those lead not necessarily where one might think. The action scenes in the film are somewhat conservative and straight on. There is a great fight scene towards the end of the film that involves Bryce tied up to a chair that rivals anything I have seen Statham do. He is the rare action star who can translate emotions in an economical way, while making them seem somewhat genuine. Think of a slightly more in touch Eastwood.
Killer Elite failed to recoup its budget domestically, and one can imagine why. It’s a film that harkens back to another era, where men play these games and women sit back, wait, and look pretty. Looking pretty comes easily to Strahovski, has little to do but hang around the Australian ranch, wait and wonder where Bryce is, and why he wants her to go away with him. Still, I can’t think that there is all that much of a demand for these films on date night. Movies like this have a way of finding life on home video, and this is no exception.
(***1/2 out of *****)