Action-thriller about an Elite Special Air Service agent, Jason Statham, who is brought out of retirement to rescue his former mentor, Robert De Niro, captured by a covert group of three ex-SAS assassins, led by Clive Owen. Now playing nationwide, click for movie times and trailer.
Based on a ‘factional’ (i.e. untrue) account by Ralph Fiennes’ ex-SAS (true) cousin, and featuring an astonishingly inappropriate cast, Killer Elite is a perplexing proposition. Gritty and clichéd, fast-paced and downbeat, it’s like every Jason Statham film ever made and none of them all at once.
As usual, The Stath plays a principled hitman dragged out of retirement for One Last Job™. Not-so-usually this involves murdering former UK soldiers in cold blood for crimes they committed in Oman. This means the film flits disorientatingly from the Middle East to rural England, behind-the-scenes army intrigue to brutal assassinations, with a moral murk to match.
Unfortunately it doesn’t explain why realistic action sequences such as The Stath and rival Clive Owen’s thrilling hospital smackdown are interspersed with risible movie-ish dialogue such as, “Killing’s easy, it’s living with it that’s the hardest part,” and, “It wasn’t personal, just business.”
The supporting cast are equally confused. De Niro’s very good as The Stath’s mentor, but his career choices increasingly feel like he lost a bet after Goodfellas, and Animal Kingdom’s excellent Ben Mendelsohn is in possession of just two lines (one of them simply a swearword) and a terrible Irish (we think) accent.
Ultimately, because of its ‘factional’ status, the film is left with a tonal dilemma it never solves: up the gung-ho quota and appear extremely crass, or up the remorse factor and kill all the fun. Far more than just another Transporter clone, and far less than the sum of its parts, the result is an oddity you couldn’t make up – unless you were Ranulph Fiennes.