'Killer Elite' Review: Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board
Killer Elite is a 2011 action movie starring Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, and Clive Owen, based on the novel The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes. Statham plays Danny Bryce, an ex-mercenary brought back to the killing game as a ransom ploy for De Niro’s Hunter, his old partner. His mission: to assassinate three targets for an exiled Omani Sheikh, each one a British Special Forces member who killed his four eldest sons. As Danny assembles a crew to systematically off these SAS targets, a shadow organization known as The Feather Men send their own retired Special Forces soldier, Spike (Clive Owen), to investigate the murders and protect the remaining targets. This cat-and-mouse trails through the deserts of the Middle East and back to London, but even after Danny completes the final hit, the Sheikh’s son pulls the rug out from under our protagonist, declaring that one of the men killed was not the murderer of his brother, thus a fourth target, Fiennes himself, is designated. Danny is forced to comply, but it is soon revealed, after a confrontation with Spike, that both were being played by The Feather Men in an attempt to secure foreign oil for British interests. The two escape the double-cross and part on not-so amicable terms. Hunter returns home, and Danny meets up with his adoring Australian girlfriend, Anne (played by Yvonne Stahovski).
Sorry if this review seems a bit dry, but that’s because there’s almost nothing to work with, here. The plot is ham-fisted and clichéd, without even holding up under its own ridiculous pretenses. The characters are shallow and under-developed, even as the movie tries to make us believe that Statham is some hit man with a heart of gold. The pacing is all wrong, the intrigue nonexistent, and even the action scenes are tedious. The movie is neither terrible nor amazing: completely unremarkable and utterly forgettable (I watched it three days prior to the writing of this article, as it took that long to come up with anything pertinent to say).
In fact, the most interesting part of the movie isn’t even on the screen: it’s the narrative of the story, itself. Originally released in 1991, Fiennes’ The Feather Men details the eponymous shadow organization who saved his life from assassins hired by the Russians in 1980 to kill him and other ex-SAS members. Ranulph declared for over ten years that the book was a detailed, non-fiction retelling of his amazing brush with pulp adventure, despite declarations from the families of those depicted to the contrary. Even the film opens and ends with a note proudly announcing this fact. The debate raged for years until, in an interview prior to the release of Killer Elite, Fiennes finally gave up the ghost and admitted it all to be a work of pure fantasy. What’s more, the film version tries to alter the narrative he created “to make the movie seem more believable to a movie-going audience,” according to our old friend Wikipedia.
What we end up with is a jumbled mess of a plot, to a movie with no heart, no soul, no memory, and no bite. The good actors are shoved to the side, while lackluster caricatures try to fill in moments between “action beats” (if they can be called that) with exposition rather than character building or any true development. Killer Elite is the dead corpse of a close-ish friend: you don’t want to bad-mouth it, you can’t be angry at it for lying there, but existing and stinking up your memories is all it really can do at this point.
Final Say: Skip It