Killer Elite tells the supposedly true story of a 1981 showdown between a team of professional assassins (led by Jason Statham's Danny) and a team of ex-SAS officers (led by Clive Owen's Spike) known as the Feathermen (so named for their light touch), all elite killers. (It's loosely based on Ranulph Fiennes' "non-fiction novel" The Feather Men.) The circumstances that lead these groups to battle each other are rewardingly convoluted, but the overall gist is that a wealthy sheik exiled from Oman wants revenge for the deaths of his three sons in a conflict in which the British weren’t officially involved. He’s somehow gotten the names of the SAS soldiers he thinks killed them. Danny is the best assassin in the world, but he’s inconveniently retired, having sworn off killing after a child got in the crossfire during a botched Mexican assignment. So to lure him out, the Omani sheik kidnaps his former mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro—surprisingly not just phoning it in!) and uses Hunter's liberty as leverage to force Danny to track down and kill each of the men on his list. However, the sheik doesn’t want to incur retribution, so he must make each death look like an accident. Spike, however, isn’t fooled. He’s the operational leader of a secret society of ex-SAS soldiers sworn to protect their own. So when he hears about strangers asking questions about Special Forces soldiers who were all on the same Omani mission, he gets suspicious and activates his network. Spike and his men attempt to protect the Oman veterans, while Danny and his men attempt to take them out, setting the two British action heroes on a collision course.
Transporter movies or Crank may be disappointed. This is a rather sprawling tale of intrigue that has more in common with The Bank Job or Steven Spielberg's Munich—though it’s not quite on the level of either of those films. (In fact, it reminded me quite a lot of Spielberg’s story of a team of assassins set in the same general period—even if the motives for this team aren’t nearly as noble.) For me, that made it all the better. The Cold War setting is well-realized for the limited budget, and Australia does an ample job standing in for far-flung locations like Oman, Dubai, Wales, Paris and London.
awesome Statham-style action as well. In one early scene, Statham gets to demonstrate some patented lightning-fast moves when he attacks a guard with a teacup. In one of the most badass (if not entirely plausible) moments of in-the-field ingenuity I’ve seen this side of Bourne, he then proceeds to grab a loaf of French bread and tear it in half. What’s he doing? Is he hungry, in the middle of a battle? No, he’s improvising a silencer! Statham sticks his small-caliber pistol entirely inside the loaf of bread (along with his hand) and uses it to muffle his next shot at close range! (Actually, maybe that’s not so far-fetched as other movie silencer moments. I suppose the bread would effectively diminish the sound of escaping gasses, and at such close range it wouldn’t seriously affect his accuracy.) Later on, we get two different versions of the Statham-vs-Owen showdown we’ve been waiting for (their first go is interrupted), with the second one resulting in that shot you’ve no doubt seen in the trailers where Statham manages to disarm his opponent and then flip backwards out of a window all wile tied to a chair! I’ll grant that moments like this awkwardly stand apart from the more serious ones and make it rather difficult to believe the film’s claims of being “based on a true story,” but Jason Statham is one star who can actually pull that off. We expect that kind of move from him, and therefore adjust our sense of disbelief accordingly.
The Bank Job.