Jeff Smith 2:55 p.m., July 25
Review: Killer Elite
Dear Killer Elite director Gary McKendry,
I'm sure you'll forgive the cliche, seeing as how it actually appears in your film. Along with "You can't run away from who you are," "Killing is easy; living with it is hard," "You show me a beautiful woman; I'll show you a man who's sick of her shit," "It wasn't personal; it was just business," "Everybody knows the rules: there are no rules," "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you," and of course, this immortal exchange: "He was lying." "How do you know?" "His lips were moving."
I guess that's the first example of how you just don't get it, do you. It's not enough to have a great actor (Clive Owen), a solid action star (Jason Statham), and a fading legend (Robert DeNiro) in an international espionage thriller based on true events. You also need a screenwriter who can handle dialogue. (I think the cleverest exchange in the film is this one: "I'm done with killing." "Maybe killing isn't done with you." This is unfortunate.)
And maybe one who can manage story as well? Ex-killer for hire Danny (Statham) gets roped back into the game for one last hit (well, three last hits). He has to do it, you see, in order to save his old partner Hunter (DeNiro), who is being held hostage by an Arab sheik who lost three sons to British special forces assassins. Right. Deaths must look like accidents, confessions must be taped. Check. And if things are going smoothly, it's best to completely change your strategy along the way - you know, bring in additional people, lay out a vastly more complicated plan than what's worked so far. Wait, what?
Maybe bring in a third guy to handle exposition. How do we know that ex-SAS badass Spike (Owen) works for the Feathermen, and that they're called The Feathermen because their touch is always light, and that what they do is illegal? Because the Feathermen tell each other this, at a meeting of the Feathermen. I get angry just typing that. Because seriously - did you see that cast? Do you see what could have been?
You know what else you don't get (do you)? Camera work. Fifteen or twenty cuts a minute, none of which show the viewer anything new in terms of content or perspective, do little except to advertise the presence of the director - as a bad director. Forget the incoherent action, with its almost religious devotion to depriving us of any sense of how people and things in one place relate to people and things in another. That's the style at the time, I know. But you get jump-cutty when a guy is getting out of a car and looking around.
There are other things you don't get - pacing and subplots among them - but really, enough. There were some high points: the ominous bullet in bed next to Statham's girl, DeNiro's weary performance. I hoped for better. Maybe I'm the one who doesn't get it.
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