Inspired by true events, Killer Elite is an action/adventure/spy film following Danny (Statham), one of the world’s best special-ops agents, who is lured from his self-imposed exile to rescue his former mentor Hunter (De Niro). Traversing the globe from Australia to Mexico, to Paris and Oman, Danny takes on a rogue group of SAS soldiers led by a beastly Clive Owen to win Hunter’s freedom.
Could it be? An Australian film that is normal? Has the Aussie film industry really produced a film minus quirky, apparently ‘Australian humour’?
Ok, so credit where credit is due, we do actually make quite a few decent, if ‘off the wall’, films (it’s just that no-one goes to see them). Yet here we succeed at making a film that blends into Hollywood mainstream.
Is this a good thing? Well maybe not in the sense of artistic integrity, but it may just pay off at the Aussie Box Office – or atleast encourage more films to be shot here.
Killer Elite is based on the extremely controversial book The Feather Men written by ex-SAS man Ranulph Fiennes (not Ralph Fiennes!). The book delves into grisly unknown aspects of ‘Britain’s Dirtiest War’ in Oman, and claims to truthfully reveal secret assassinations and political scandals that followed.
It also details the existence of a secret society of ex-SAS soldiers who reportedly go to any lengths to protect SAS men past and present.
The book was met with much controversy and denial upon publication, but as the details of the Omani War are still highly classified by the British Government, there has been no way to tell who is lying. As Killer Elite’s Australian Director Gary McKendry states: “We don’t know if every part of this happened or not. But I do know it’s a fantastic story!”
It’s certainly exciting as a viewer watching the film with the thought running through the back of your mind that this may have actually happened.
Sure it seems far-fetched, but who knows what dirty business the ‘powers that be’ secretly get up to in their bid to maintain power? Watching this film and knowing that it may be based in truth is enough to give you a thrill (or make you lose all faith in humanity….)
The book had enough pulling power to attract big names Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Jason Statham to the arse-end of the world for filming, as Victoria played host to the majority of shooting locations (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: Oi! Oi! Oi!)
The film does prove the diversity of our landscape and it’s suitability as a filming location. Most locations were pretty convincing: Parts of Victoria were passed off as Paris and London among others. Though there was way too much ‘matte painting’ going on in this film (where the front ground action is shot on location/sets while the background is extended by a supposedly realistic matte painting or CGI). This wasn’t always subtle.
The book was adapted for screen by Aussie writer Matt Sherring. It was an epic task to condense the complicated, lengthy book (in which the story spans 17 years) into a less-than-two-hour film, but he does a admirable job.
A newbie on the scene of screen writing, Sherring’s naivety is glaringly apparent in places with some majorly clichéd dialogue rearing it’s ugly head at times (Sherring was educated in a boarding school for farmers and majored in agriculture and rugby. Now he’s a screenwriter….only in Australia!)
The leading cast is strong. It is enjoyable to see a spy film with a decidedly human element as it’s core. Even Statham manages to bring a few layers to his character (though no-one in real life can possibly have a voice that low!)
De Niro has little screen time in comparison to the other leads which is always a shame; you can never have too much Robbie! But he does present a convincing mentor/father figure that you believe a friend would go to great lengths to save.
Statham and Owen are gripping enough, successfully creating a tension and deathly competition between their two characters who, in reality, actually share few joint scenes.
Owen holds up well against Statham in the fight scenes, though the cinematography lets the team down with their biggest brawl being way too dark and shaky – in fact, several parts of the film could have done with more light.
The supporting cast is, sadly, not so great. Most of the minor leads are good, but the smaller roles (namely the Feather Men committee) are amateur-hour. The talent-pool is largely Australian (De-Niro is reportedly the only American-born cast member) and you can’t help but wonder if the Aussies trying to put on foreign accents impede their acting ability in parts.
The film’s 80’s setting paves the way for some pretty awful fashion, cringe-worthy hair-dos and some majorly impressive (but ultimately distracting) ‘porno moustaches’.
Even Clive Owen can’t look handsome with his dated facial hair – though reportedly the 80’s look is one of the things that attracted him to the film as it was ‘Clive as he’d never been seen before’.
This curl to my lip brought on by the utterly convincing 80’s look of the film is actually a compliment to the Key Hair and Makeup designer Paul Pattison. Kudos to him. Just cos I find the 80s look laughable, doesn’t mean he didn’t do a good job. (Apologies Mr Pattison!)
Ultimately Killer Elite amounts to an interesting film with just enough action to please, and with enough substance plot-wise to set it apart from your usual action-flick. It is even more impressive when you consider that Writer (Sherring) and Director (McKendry) are newbies to the industry (McKendry first appeared on the scene in 2005, winning an Oscar for his short film Everything in This Country Must)
You find yourself attached to the characters and wondering who to barrack for: Statham or Owen? Both are decent men in their own right, just trying to do what they think is best.
Though enjoyable, the movie feels overlong. It’s running time is perfectly acceptable at just short of 2 hours, yet I did find myself looking at my watch towards the end absolutely sure I had been sitting there for what could only be 3 hours…
It’s a solid spy-action-adventure flick that shows potential in Australia’s ability to produce internationally set films.
I rate it 3 out of 5.