In 1980, when his longtime friend and professional mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) is taken hostage in Oman, Danny (Jason Statham) a retired member of Britain's elite Special Air Service is recruited by a mysterious middle man (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) acting on behalf of Sheik Amt (Rodney Afif) to avenge the Sheik's sons, killed by SAS operatives. With Hunter's fate relying on him, Danny reluctantly accepts the task and reassembles his team of top operatives. They plan to infiltrate his feared former military unit to take down a cell of rogue soldiers and their brilliant leader Spike (Clive Owen). Also at stake are huge UK-Oman oil contracts .... (Claimed to be based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
When Ranulph Fiennes' book came out in Britain in 1991, revealing the secret role of SAS agents in the Oman civil war, it caused enormous controversy and triggered feverish official denials. It's an extraordinary (and almost plausible) story, and we can only wish that the filmmakers had told it better.
Oh, yes, a great cast and plenty of tension, action and gunfire, but unless you know the basic story it is rather confusing, jumpy and jumbled.
A big budget ($70 million or so) joint Australian/US production, the film features a number of Aussie actors, the most interesting of them being Aden Young as a pipe smoking electronics specialist with a wry sense of humour, Ben Mendelsohn as a Scottish operative and Lachy Hulme as a colourful rogue. The lovely Yvonne Strahovsky plays Anne, the young woman for whom Danny is anxious to quit his deadly profession for a quiet life in the Yarra Valley, where he is renovating an old stone cottage.
The action sequences are frantically staged and are full of tension; there are a couple tooth and claw gladiatorial fights between Danny and Spike and some heavy short-range gunfights, all well realised. The problems lie in a combination of a scrambled screenplay which just jams incidents one against the other, and editing which doesn't rescue this fatal flaw.
Too often the result is a film in which we have to jump to conclusions and assume events that link scenes together to make sense. Some information is completely missing and some is incomplete. We jump around the world a bit, and while this adds texture, it also adds to the confusion. (There is a glaring error in the final shot of the film, which is supposed to take place in Paris, involving a French sedan; the British number plate on it couldn't be bigger or more confusing.)
Yet, despite these shortcomings, Killer Elite manages to keep us engaged for much of its running time, thanks mostly to the performances and the action, but it feels much longer than just under two hours.
There is another great story to be found here, and it's to do with Fiennes and his book, with claims about its veracity. It's as murky as the world of secret intelligence itself. Look it up online ...
Published first in the Sun-Herald.
Review by Louise Keller:
Politics, military secrets and murder most foul are the themes of this gritty action thriller in which Jason Statham and Clive Owen face off as professional assassins. The story is based on the controversial non-fiction novel The Feather Men by former British Army and SAS officer Ranulph Fiennes that recounts a breathtaking operation involving the SAS and elite killers. Greed and revenge play an integral role, but so does loyalty, which is the tale's redeeming factor. Fascinating but often frustrating, this Australian co-production from the producers of Tomorrow When The War Began, rips along at a frenetic pace with edge-of-seat thrills as the action hots up, but loses its sizzle by a jumpy, clumsy screenplay and direction that sometimes takes us out of the moment.
There are no good guys in this graphically violent tale. They're all bad, but some are clearly badder than others. In the high octane opening sequence in Mexico in which an operation goes wrong, we learn of the close camaraderie between mercenaries Danny (Jason Statham) and Hunter (Robert De Niro) and that Danny has a conscience. That's when Danny decides that he's 'done with killing' and heads for Australia's lush Yarra Valley for a new, peaceful life.
But killing is obviously not yet done with him - when he is brought back into the fray by an ailing renegade oil Sheik from Oman (Rodney Afif), who has had Hunter kidnapped to make Danny do his bidding. The mission is to kill the three SAS officers who killed three of the Sheik's four sons in the Oman war and to make each one look like an accident. Filmed confessions are also required.
The controversial part concerns the ex-SAS men (known as The Feather Men), who now sit around a polished table, their illegal dealings being handled with a feather-light touch. There are oil contracts at stake, big money and dirty dealings.
There's a showy car chase the first time Jason Statham and Clive Owen lock eyes, followed by an elaborate getting to know you that is all physical. They are well matched and the film's best scenes are those in which they both appear. But as Spike (Owen) says: Killing is easy; living with it is hard. Much bloody killing follows in complicated, often interesting set ups. (Familiar Australian faces have strong inputs: Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Lachy Hulme and Yvonne Strahovski as Danny's romantic interest.)
But the plot gets somewhat bogged down with too much emphasis placed on incidental characters. As a result the film feels a trifle long. Danny's heart is clearly back in the Yarra Valley with his pretty country girlfriend Anne (Strahovski), but this relationship is not properly developed and never feels real. The scenes in Paris when the newly released Hunter keeps his eye on Danny's girl are unconvincing. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the mercenary's double dealing agent is terrific (in a loathsome way) as he sinks lower than low for his 10% commission.
Stratham and Owen's star power fires well and the premise squeals for attention, but I couldn't help being disappointed and feeling as though the resulting film could have been a whole lot better.
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KILLER ELITE (MA15+)
CAST: Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Jason Statham, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young, Yvonne Strahovsky, Ben Mendelsohn, Lachy Hulme, Firass Dirani, Nick Tate, Bille Brown
PRODUCER: Michael Boughen, Steve Chasman, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Tony Winley
DIRECTOR: Gary McKendry
SCRIPT: Matt Sherring (book The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Simon Duggan
EDITOR: John Gilbert
MUSIC: Reinhold Hell, Johnny Kilmek
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michelle McGahey
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 23, 2012