(Our review from Toronto Film Festival re-posted as Killer Elite is released in cinema's today)
rating: 2I remember, back when I first saw the trailer for Killer Elite I showed it to a friend, mainly for the part where Jason Statham crushed Clive Owens balls with a well placed uppercut. My partner in crime at the time turned to me and said By based on a true story, does it mean that, one time there was this guy, who shot at another guy, and there was some sort of fight?. After watching Killer Elite, I can pretty much confirm that, that might as well have been what it was based on, but no, sadly it was based on Ranulph Fiennes factional book The Feather Men which details the supposedly sordid events that the SAS took part in during the Oman war, which itself was a very dark time. The problem is, it was a very complex engagement, one with far too many angles to engage appropriately in a mainstream movie. Director Gary Mckendry and his co-writer Matt Shelling (the first foray into feature filmmaking for the both of them) decide to sidestep this quandary by stripping out all of the actual issues and replacing them with slickly shot action sequences to jolt the adrenalin junkies in their seat and appeal to international audiences. While this will be appealing to some it inevitably makes the central concept, which could also probably be restructured as an effective drama, feel completely squandered in such a meaningless way. Our hero is Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) who is the best killer in the business. We are treated to a particularly epic and thrilling opening sequence that shows the excellent killer at work with his long time partner and mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro). After the opening hit Danny decides he wants nothing to do with killing anymore and declares he is out of the business forever and flies to Australia, to hide out on a farm and stare doe eyed at his lover (Yvonne Strahovski) who is featured in a number of, just painfully trite and needlessly sentimental flashbacks. Of course, staying out of the business never lasts long as Bryce is quickly drawn back in as his mentor accepted a risky job from an exiled Sheikh and then tried to escape from it. Hunter is captive and the Sheikh is dying, asking Bryce to complete the job that Hunter undertook, namely to execute the three SAS operatives who assassinated his three sons during the Oman conflict. What follows is an obviously telegraphed, ultimately pointless action scene where Bryce attempts to break Hunter out, resulting in them gratuitously beating a few people, before being caught again. Bryce then reunites the guys he used to work with to help him kill the three men. (Dominic Purcell is one of the men, sporting the worst facial hair in the film, which is somewhat of an achievement). As with any of these action thrillers there are stipulations to each kill. Danny must procure a taped confession from each man and their deaths must be made to look like an accident so it cannot be traced back to the Sheikh. When Bryce and co. Start to arouse suspicion they fall under the scrutiny of the eponymous Feather Men who assign their top man, one eyed Spike (Clive Owen) to take care of Bryce and his boys. What follows is the same old game of cat and mouse, drawn out far beyond its natural conclusion and ultimately ends in a very unsatisfying way. Its very sad when a film is set in the 1980s and everyone is given awful period facial hair, as if to lend the film some sort of credence. There is also a metric fuckton of globetrotting, which ultimately amounts to nothing because its painfully clear that the entire film is shot in Australia, so its attempts at trying to make it seem exotic fall rather short. In actuality, this is a film that heavily rests on the shoulders of its cast, and honestly, the three of them are playing characters that they could easily sleep walk their way through. These arent fleshed out characters this is impish Robert De Niro having a blast and a paycheque, Mr Statham sauntering through a labyrinth of death and destruction and Clive Owen wearing a funny mustache. Its telling when the films attempts at character development do not ring deeper than trivial flashbacks to Jason Stathams woman back at the Australian farm and trite conversations about the past as if to instil some sort of long lasting bond between characters. McKendry was lucky to land these three central actors because if his film rested on anyone elses shoulders it would have almost certainly collapsed. The reason for this is simple: their screenplay is shockingly poor. Whether its down to the just awful dialogue or the completely underbaked plot points, or reams of awkward exposition or just plain old problems with pacing. I think the biggest issue I had with the screenplay was the first time we meet the Feather Men. These men are painted as some of the most horrifically cartoonish villains Ive seen in what otherwise pretends to be a realistic action thriller. The only thing missing from this scene is evil laughs and mustache twirling. Also, in what we can assume is a pretty normal meeting between these men, for some reason they deem it necessary to regurgitate who they are and what they do in the most plainly obvious, and rather nauseating way. Really guys? You couldnt have brought on the random informant who fills in our heroes with all the handy information? Of course not, Killer Elite is in too much of a hurry... I couldnt tell you where it was hurrying too as the damn film ends more than once and its final climax is slowly drawn out in a feeble attempt to stretch the running time. While I seem to have descended into a rant over what I didnt like about the film it is fair to say there is a redeeming feature and that comes with the steady hand of McKendry. While his script is shoddy dross, his actual directing is very slick for a first helmer and he handles himself well, framing some pretty great looking shots and not entirely succumbing to the appalling Greengrass/Bradley style of action scenes thats so ridiculously popular right now. For the most part the action scenes are good enough, but at the same time they lack the real creativity and energy you will find in other Statham vehicles like Crank. Regardless, when the foundations of your film are that bad, it doesnt matter how good the natural charisma of your stars is or how slick you can shoot a film, ultimately if your script is practically worthless then you arent going to get very far. You can polish a turd, but underneath the digestable sheen, youre still consuming utter shit. Killer Elite is out in the U.K. and U.S. today.