With professional assassins, secret societies and government agents playing all sides of the law, “Killer Elite” has all the ingredients for an outlandish spy action thriller, but its two heroes and their motivations never fully ignite the story.
“Killer Elite” is based on Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ adventure novel “The Feather Men,” a book that stirred outrage and criticism among its real-life subjects. In the film, ex-assassin Danny (Jason Statham) is forced out of retirement when his mentor and friend Hunter (Robert De Niro) is held hostage for refusing a job. For the sake of saving Hunter, Danny reluctantly agrees to kill three ex-Special Air Service soldiers. Danny gathers intelligence on the three soldiers from the Feather Men, a secret society of retired SAS soldiers who deal in illicit activities. When members of the society become aware of his actions, they dispatch Spike (Clive Owen) to hunt down and execute Danny and his team.
The storyline avoids the typical action plot by attempting to develop a character-driven thriller. Director Gary McKendry establishes a refreshing moral ambiguity between Danny, an assassin with a strict personal code of ethics, and Spike, a loyal SAS operative, instead of a clearly defined good guy and an obviously evil villain. That ambiguous dynamic would have made “Killer Elite” into a more memorable and powerful film, but it falls short in execution.
Spike claims he is driven by a need to protect members of his sacred SAS brotherhood, but McKendry does not take the necessary time to develop that camaraderie. Spike’s interaction with his team is mostly professional and gives the impression that he is acting out of obligation rather than a deep emotional bond with his teammates. This film could have been an investigation into the minds of real-life murderers, but its lack of character development makes it a shallow and ineffective attempt to combine thrill and intellect.
While McKendry aspires to make “Killer Elite” a thought-driven assassin flick instead of a typical Hollywood action movie, the film becomes a botched job when it fails to reveal the potentially interesting motives of its characters.
“Killer Elite” was directed by Gary McKendry and written by Matt Sherring and Ranulph Fiennes.
2.5 out of 4 stars