The Killer in Me is the Killer in You
A Film Review of Killer Elite
By: Lawrence Napoli
Is there a finer action star than Jason Statham these days? The likes of Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger made all of their money on action films, which is probably why they will never relinquish the torch. Until, that is, they are made to be irrelevant by superior iconic performances of a younger generation. Since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998, the man has been a juggernaut of success. He is the face for two successful franchises (The Transporter and Crank), he works extremely well with casts that boast big names (The Expendables and The Italian Job), he is the only Caucasian that has displayed martial arts choreography that can stand a toe to Jet Li (The One and War) and let’s face facts, he has a natural charisma about him that elevates his performances to a believability that few can boast. Maybe it’s the accent, maybe it’s his balding dome, maybe it’s his abs, but he has the swag, and all that remains for him is to land that one, quintessential film success to solidify his status as a Hollywood elite.
Killer Elite, is no such film. It could just be me, but I feel completely inundated with the whole “spies and assassins competing against each other” gag that I didn’t find this particular story to be all that unique, despite the fact it is based on the supposedly true events of The Feather Man, a novel written by Ranulph Fiennes. The screenplay adaptation written by Gary McKendry and Matt Sherring is an entertaining tour of the often overlooked role that the British SAS (Special Air Service) plays in regular, global, black operations. Americans tend to think of our British allies as the well mannered voice of reason amidst a diverse and sometimes flamboyant European Union, but this film certainly presents the image of the UK getting its hands dirty quite frequently and quite well. There are three perspectives in this story, two of which (the more unique) are passed over for the standard rogue-without-a-country which the main protagonists supply. A more interesting action film would have resulted if the main focus shifted to either the Arab royalty that hires the white assassins or the illegal British shadow government whose will is imposed by the actual Feather Man. Sometimes it can be difficult to sell the anti-hero, especially when the events are based in the real world where most intelligent people know their governments participate in shady dealings, but find bliss in pure ignorance or apathy. As such, the perspective of the hired gun can only be sympathetic when a crisis of conscience gives “the hero” guilt-ridden motivation to seek a life of peace, away from killing. The rest of the drama follows when he is pulled back into the killing game to save his friend.
The action in Killer Elite is generated from gunplay and fisticuffs. The gunplay is not particularly dynamic, but the fights between Jason Statham and Clive Owen are very thrilling. These sequences tend to intercut too quickly and use lots of sharp pans and tilts within the cut which may cause the audience to lose focus. The occasional timeout to taunt or make a point allows the viewer to regain reference, but then it’s back to close-ups and quick cuts. This is a filmmaking trick to feign martial prowess because Owen is not the stage combatant that Statham is. Therefore, the audience is not privy to any wider angles that feature full bodies in pugilist skirmishes, but are satisfying nonetheless.
I am so happy to see Miranda Lawson . . . er, . . . Yvonne Strahovski finally see some work outside of the TV show Chuck. (I can barely bring myself to invest in any network TV, so seeing an enchantress like Yvonne make out with some chuddy nerd is not a motivation) She is the first woman I can claim to have developed an insatiable celebrity crush on because of her voice, but then I found out how she actually looks like Miranda in Mass Effect 2 - and then it was just all over for me. Counting to 10, taking deep breaths, and we’re back. Yvonne plays Anne, the love interest for the protagonist Danny played by Jason Statham. Anne is a sexy country girl that is so far removed from the cutthroat world of deception, coercion and elimination that she’s practically from the Land of Oz. Strahovski may kick ass on her TV show, but indelible innocence is what her character is all about in Killer Elite. Anne is not exactly the damsel in distress although her relationship with Danny does put her at slight risk in this film’s third act. Strahovski has all the tools to play empowered and interesting women in film, but this part amounts to little more than the prerequisite sex appeal for this kind of standard action flick. Hopefully, this opportunity (plus a more lenient shooting schedule from Chuck) allows this beautiful woman to be more of a player in the Hollywood scene.
Robert De Niro is fully engaged with the twilight years of his thespian career and has yet to prove as indispensable as an elder as he was in his younger days. Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take lighter roles (see Sean Connery), but De Niro has taken to comedy with varying degrees of success in films like Meet the Parents, Analyze This, and Machete. Killer Elite is not a return of the uncanny tough guy for De Niro, but shows brief moments of tact and command that is most reminiscent of his performance in Ronin. Mentor roles are type cast for older actors, but I feel De Niro is too great of an actor to pigeonhole himself into this category, even at the ripe age of 68. Still, his performance as Hunter in this film comes off as the kindest, most protective and most fatherly type of professional hitman in the history of fictional professional hitmen. This is probably the one and only performance in De Niro’s career where I’d call for more assertiveness in his character.
Clive Owen is an intense, unrelenting, SOB who delivers another self-made type-cast performance in Killer Elite. What do I mean by “self-made type-cast?” Like Steve Buscemi and Michael Cera, Clive Owen has created a type cast of his own performances that has made an acute spectrum of emotions reference to himself and not the other way around. This is what occurs when the viewer gets the impression of one actor playing the same exact character (and not character-type) in every movie they star in. Owen is indeed a victim of his own success because nobody does the intense, unrelenting, SOB better than him. As the primary antagonist in Killer Elite, Owen is equal parts convincing and menacing – the perfect villain, or is he also an anti-hero? Regardless, the man has got a stare that will melt a hole through your forehead and that is always a marketable skill to showcase in action films.
As for Jason Statham, I will simply say that he once again provides a solid performance as the main character, shows remarkable acumen in one on one dialogue scenes (romantic, dangerous or otherwise) and transmits physicality through the lens that few can duplicate. Everything else you need to know was mentioned in the first paragraph.
Killer Elite is an action film that would have been overlooked had it been released during the summer of 2011. As we enter Hollywood’s slow season in between blockbuster summer and award season winter, this film may be able to turn a decent profit as a result of the fine performances that are featured by the cast. Without a really engrossing story, however, most men will have their girlfriends, wives and daughters coerce them into seeing Abduction because it’s a similar type of movie that just happens to star the “dreamy” (and irrelevant) Taylor Lautner. That film will steal a lot of dollars from Killer Elite, and although I’d recommend everyone to check this film out for the much anticipated showdown between Owen and Statham, it kind of fizzles; so wait for it to come out on-demand.