Movie Review: Killer Elite (2011)

  • Director – Gary McKendry
  • Starring – Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Dominic Purcell
  • Writer – Matt Sherring (screenplay) based on a book by Ranulph Fiennes
  • Year – 2012
  • Running Time – 120 mins

 What is it with the military and moustaches?

I first came across Killer Elite whilst scrolling through the rental screen on iTunes looking for something to fill a couple of hours with.  The reviews talked about ‘a thinking man’s action film’ inspired by “The Feather Men” a book by British legend Ranulph Fiennes.  The cast also included Jason Statham, Clive Owen and none other than Robert De Niro.  It was a tempting package so I excitedly clicked on rent now.  10 minutes later I knew I had made quite a big mistake, but by then it was too late to ask for my money back.

Killer Elite is based in 1980 and tells the story of a group of hit men led by Robert De Niro as mercenaries for hire.  After one final job Statham retires to Australia in at attempt to forget the past until it inevitably catches up with him, this time in the guise of an Omani Sheikh who has taken De Niro hostage after he refused to complete an assignment.  The job in question was to track down and kill three British SAS officers who were implicit in the murder of the Sheikh’s son during the Omani Dhofar Rebellion.  Now Statham not only has to track down and kill three of the most well trained military soldiers in the world, but also extract a taped confession from them.  Only then will De Niro be released.

This film felt like a huge wasted opportunity.  It had a cracking back-story, a compelling premise and on paper a cast up to the job. However something went wrong as it just felt incredibly flat and lacking in any real bite. A team of mercenaries up against the best-trained military outfit in the world should be good and if it’s not then the main culprit has to be the script.

One of the key tenants of script writing is to show the audience rather than tell and this was probably my biggest gripe. So often the script resorted to a character speaking lines purely for plot development.  The Feather Men themselves is probably the best example.  Their backstory is given in three lines by the leader of the group and felt crowbarred in.  No one in that room needed to hear what he said, but I would have loved to understand the group in more detail.

Statham is solid enough and there was potential for this to be the vehicle to to take him out of his action man comfort zone and into a more substantial role.  However the script simply doesn’t deliver and he is left to flounder with clichéd one liners interspersed with brief moments of extreme physical violence, so essentially delivering bog standard Statham.  I was also slightly confounded by just how easy Statham was able to operate.  In the original story the mission took place over 17 years, and whilst this isn’t a plot spoiler, Statham is a bit quicker.

Amongst it all though there are glimpses of what could have been.  Statham’s interaction with Clive Owen, a former SAS officer tasked to keep what happened in Oman secret is the highlight of the film.  The two play of each other well, not only in their physical encounters but also in some of the films slightly more philosophical moments.  De Niro though is wasted, essentially taking the entire middle of the film off and seems to be purely in paycheck mode.  There was though one glorious moment early on in the film where Bob was back in full-blown action mode with strong echoes of Heat, however this proved to be the highpoint.

All in all I was left frustrated by Killer Elite.  With such an interesting story it could and should have been a lot better.  If it wasn’t for all the miltary moustaches it may well have been a one star film.


Review by Will Malone
If you liked Killer Elite, then try Lockout

12 thoughts on “Movie Review: Killer Elite (2011)

  1. That’s the second review of this flick I have seen today (the other was over at Marked Movies) and the verdict is unanimous! Good write-up, Will

    • Hey Ryan, just read Mark’s review and we certainly seem to be on the same page. Don’t say you haven’t been warned if you are looking for more films by the end of the year! BTW I think my RSS feed for your site has fallen over as I haven’t had any updates for a while.

  2. Haha! You and I are definitely on the same page here Will. I just posted my review yesterday and I agree with you wholeheartedly. 2 stars is generous but I also gave it that. This should and could have been much better. We seem to see eye to eye on this one. 😉

    • Blimey, just read your review we certainly do seem to be on the same page don’t we, well as they say, great minds think alike! With such an interesting story they really seem to have done it a bit of a disservice. I also reckon the SAS may have a thing or two to say about how the story portrays their officers especially how easy they appear to be to track down, trap and then confess. Not exactly the world’s best. I couldn’t get past Clive Owen’s moustache, that had me chuckling the whole way through.

      • That was exactly my thoughts Will. When I was watching it, I couldn’t believe how dull it was especially when it had a he’ll of a lot going for it. I would liked to have seen a bit more of DeNiro and, like you say, a bit less of Owen’s ridiculous mouser. 😉

        • Very much agree, I just think Statham has so much more to offer and this could have been the perfect vehicle for him. I think he would have been great in the upcoming Jack Reacher, certainly more credible in the menace dept than Tom Cruise.

  3. Good review Will. It’s got some good action scenes, but overall, feels like another one of Statham’s action-vehicles. Except this time, with Clive Owen and five-minutes of De Niro.

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