KILLER ELITE Is A Solid, Albeit Not Exactly "Elite" Action Flick (Blu-ray Review)
Watch me grapple with one misconception about the movie prior to seeing it, and a little baggage I like to call "My Jason Statham Problem." The latter kept me from seeing the movie during its theatrical run while the former made the movie somewhat more appealing--at least as a surface detail, but I should probably elaborate here.
The misconception was that the film by first-time feature director Gary McKendry was set in the present, or at least "present-ish," but I'll be damned if The Killer Elite isn't technically a period piece. We're informed of this during a block of text at the opening of the film linking the current conflicts between the West and the Middle East with the messy tumults of the early 80's. Stars Jason Statham and Robert De Niro (doing what amounts to an extended cameo, trailers and poster art be damned) are weathered mercenaries of the principled variety and a job in Latin America goes wrong, Statham's character Danny hangs up his hired gun. That is until he finds out that De Niro's character Hunter has been imprisoned by an ailing sheik who objects to Hunter begging off of a $6 million job. The job: to find three men responsible for the deaths of the sheik's sons, get them to confess, kill, them, and make the deaths look like accidents. Only the twist is that all three are members of Britain's elite S.A.S., making them very difficult targets indeed.
From this point, Killer Elite almost takes on a heist movie structure as Danny puts together his small team to stalk, interrogate, and kill the killers. On the other side of things, there's Clive Owen's Spike, retired S.A.S. himself who serves as a sort of fix it man for a cabal of former military-turned-businessmen who call themselves "The Feathermen."
This information and much of the detail of Killer Elite comes in large, fairly transparent bits of exposition, offset by some genuinely well-staged and tense action as well as two fairly thrilling hand-to-hand scenes (although one falls flat for succumbing to the "shaky cam" temptation and being oddly bloodless to boot). Although he's in the movie for less than a total of maybe ten minutes of its nearly two hour running time, I have to credit De Niro with bringing a little humor and weathered grace to his roughly sketched role. Somehow he's a family man who supports his clan by taking these high-stakes jobs and it's a credit to the actor that he sells the warmth of his weird, mostly implausible character. Owen, too, does some good work when the movie has time for him, effectively the villain but so filled with loyalty and moral outrage over the deaths of his brothers in arms that we sympathize with him. He's also the subject of a clever, minor reveal at the end of the movie.
As for Statham: he's not really there. The steely charm he brought to his earlier roles even in dross like The Transporter movies is absent here as he shoots for haunted and conflicted by hits "professional disinterest." The Jason Statham problem I alluded to at the top was just this: he's been taking on so many roles as ultra-competent killers trying to manage their feelings for so long that the roles have come together in one bland slurry. I think part of it is the script which has Danny say what's troubling him and actually articulate his inner turmoil but when it comes to actually visualizing it, cuts to the girlfriend (Yvonne Strahoski) waiting for him back in his refuge in the Australian countryside , it never really serves the character. Save for a bit in the intro, he doesn't really make any choices, he just does the job until he doesn't have to do it any more. His character is simply wound up and pointed in the direction of the plot.
My problem with Statham is that he's been playing a variation of this character for so long, that I suspect he doesn't really know where to go with the character type, and it's a waste of a talented, charismatic performer.
I'm coming down hard on Statham because if his role were given more care, it would elevate Killer Elite from the very solid action picture it is now to one of those fun action movies you tell your friends about months after you've seen it.
Audio, Video, and Special Features
The movie has an intentionally desaturated look to it, but not washed out and high on the greys and browns (it has a bit more contrast than that). The end result is that the picture is very, very sharp, particularly as represented on the disc here. You'll get to hear plenty of little pops and bursts of gunfire thanks to the DTS 5.1 Audio.
Very little in the way of special features: just a couple of deleted scenes and then bupkiss.
Killer Elite is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD now.