Gary McKendry’s debut feature is an adaptation of Ranulph Fiennes’ The Feather Men, a book detailing the alleged true story of four British soldiers, who were assassinated by an elite hit squad under orders of an Omani Sheikh. Curiously the film sees the hired guns as the heroes and portrays their targets as corrupt SAS officers with questionable motives.
Jason Statham plays Danny, a recently retired operative whose idyllic new life is cut short when his mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), is kidnapped in the Middle East. Danny is presented with a mission: kill the SAS officers responsible for murdering Sheikh Amr’s three sons if he ever wants to see Hunter alive again. With a sleazy contractor (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) looking to muscle in on the action, Danny puts together a trusted team and goes gunning for the squadies.
Despite its impressive globetrotting story, Killer Elite was filmed almost entirely in Australia and Wales, with Melbourne doubling for Paris and Cardiff used to represent London circa 1980. Because of this, McKendry is unable to convincingly capture the mood or flavour of these exotic locales, and we never feel the mileage that these characters must endure, not to mention the conflicting cultures, immigration issues and exactly how they always manage to arm themselves so soon after arrival in new countries.
It is not long into the mission that Danny & Co. attracts the attention of The Feather Men, a secret society of former military big wigs and various “interested parties” from the private sector. Their muscle appears in the form of Spike (a wonderfully mustachioed Clive Owen) in whom Danny finds his nemesis and the pair enjoy a couple of brutal encounters in which plenty of blood is drawn and much furniture and public property is destroyed.
There are moments when Killer Elite looks to be emulating Steven Spielberg’s savagely pessimistic Munich, down to its period setting and depictions of politically influenced contract killings. However, these instances are fleeting and Killer Elite is left with nothing tangible on which to hang its frankly ludicrous premise. The performances are fine, with Statham delivering exactly what is expected of him, while Clive Owen looks surprisingly comfortable in the physical role of a similarly adept fighter. To say that the entire project shifts up a gear whenever De Niro is onscreen should be a given, and he is the clear standout during the precious few moments of screen time he is awarded. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the almost unrecognizable Dominic Purcell (Prison Break), whose broad performance and ceaselessly fluctuating accent leave much to be desired.
Despite some solid action sequences and a big-name cast, Killer Elite shoots far above its station and never quite hits the mark. It aims to be something grander and weightier than the average Statham actioner, but ultimately only really feels comfortable when it dispenses with the underground political shenanigans and just lets “The Stathe” hit people.