Theatrical Review: Killer Elite

It’s 1981 and Danny Bryce, an ex-special ops agent believes he’s finally out of the game and has retired for good.  That retirement is relatively short-lived when he discovers that his long time friend, partner and mentor, Hunter is being held against his will by a wealthy oil sheik in Oman.  The sheik will free Hunter only after Danny performs a specific task: killing three British soldiers who were responsible for the murder of the sheik’s sons. Bryce begins the job successfully, but soon catches the attention of Spike Logan, the enforcer of a secret British watchdog society.

That’s the premise to Killer Elite which is not a re-make of the Sam Peckinpah film, but is inspired by the true story told in Ranulph Fiennes book The Feather Men. It’s also the first big screen feature for director Gary McKendry who was previously nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2005 ( a film called Everything In This Country Must).  Now, I’ve not read The Feather Men and I’ve not seen McKendry’s short film, but from the moment that I saw the trailer for Killer Elite the first time, I pretty much knew that I had to see the movie on release.

What this movie puts me in the mind of is what you might get if you crossed the late John Frankenheimer’s film Ronin with Steven Spielberg’s Munich and I consider that high praise.  McKendry really knows how to make an action movie and there is a lot here that puts me right in the mind of John Frankenheimer’s films in particular.

Killer Elite stars Jason Statham, Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen.  Jason Statham plays Danny Bryce. Now I am a big fan of Statham’s and I think consistently he’s one of the best in action films today.  His characters may not vary that widely, but he always seems authentic like he really could do a lot of the things that he does in these films.  This isn’t as over-the-top as say the Crank films or The Transporter movies.  I’d actually put Statham’s work in Killer Elite more in line with his work in The Bank Job or The Mechanic. Regardless, he’s always fun to watch and he doesn’t disappoint in this movie.

Robert DeNiro is more support than anything else in this film and I think he’s pretty good here.  I wouldn’t necessarily ever imagine him working with Statham in anything and yet, he does look like he’s having fun here.  DeNiro plays Hunter and he and Statham really do have some good chemistry together, so much so that you actually wish  they could’ve been paired together for more of the film.

Clive Owen plays Spike Logan and it’s easily one of his more threatening roles.  Like Statham, Clive Owen is money in the bank for this type of movie.  One of the better action scenes in the film involves a brutal hand-to-hand fight between Bryce and Logan and to both Statham’s and Owen’s credit it damn near seems like they did the whole thing themselves.

These three are terrific and I’d expect them to be, but the real standout of the cast for me had to be Dominic Purcell.  Purcell plays Davies a Welsh associate of Bryce’s and Hunter’s who’s just a little more headstrong than those two.  Purcell is better known for his work on Prison Break and I have to admit, when I first saw him here, I honestly did not recognize him.  It wasn’t until after the credits rolled that I realized who this actor was who was playing this character.  Now, a lot of that is due to a really good make-up job that basically portrays Purcell in a way we haven’t seen him before, but… it’s also a really good performance on his part and he certainly does stand toe-to-toe with the three leads.

Killer Elite is really more of a throwback tough guy film more than anything else.  It doesn’t go for some of the more over-the-top action that’s atypical of today’s action movies and it’s tightly and intricately paced.  I don’t know how true it is to it’s source, but it certainly does seem like there’s been a lot of attention to detail here.  It’s very well cast and director Gary McKendry is certainly a guy that I’ll be watching in the future.