Killer Elite is a good movie, dressed up as a great movie. It's got all the the cast, action, and conspiracy of a taught thriller--it's even "based on a true story"--but Killer Elite stops short of being truly remarkable. Not nearly as complicated or bloated as other reviewers make out, the movie, I think, is actually under-developed.
I hesitate to label the film "amateur" but it kind of has that feel. Take for instance a scene in which the committee members of the secret society sit around their meeting table and discuss with one another the nature of their business. That is exposition at its worst. Or Jason Statham's girlfriend, who is of little consequence but in constant danger of getting killed. A excellent example of unnecessary conflict and plot.
In short, the film is this: Sheikh Amr's sons were killed by SAS soldiers during the Oman conflict, and now the Sheikh wants vengeance. He hired Robert DeNiro to kill the soldiers responsible, but DeNiro failed. So now he's hiring Jason Statham, DeNiro's buddy, to complete the job. DeNiro's life hangs in the balance. Statham sets about tracking down and killing the SAS soldiers, but his actions bring him and his crew to the attention of Clive Owen and a shady group of corrupt and conspiratorial businessmen who call themselves the Feathermen, and are all ex-SAS. Vengeful in his own right, Clive Owen goes after Statham.
There is, of course, more to this story. The following plot points are scattered throughout:
- The Sheikh's only living son will inherit his wealth and oil fields. The son is expected to sign a contract with the British, which will benefit the Feathermen.
- The Sheikh plans to send his son away once his vengeance quest is ended. Send him to live in the desert with his people. The son doesn't care much for this, and would prefer instead to remain in luxury.
- Jason Statham is actually retired from being a mercenary and is trying to build a new life for himself in Australia. The Sheikh knows this and uses it to manipulate him into to killing one last man, a fourth soldier who was involved in his sons' deaths.
- A former SAS soldier has written a tell-all book about the Oman conflict, exposing a big conspiracy.
- Robert DeNiro has a family that he loves.
If the film were stripped of most of its plot, it would play much better. The action is first-rate, but much of the story feels largely unnecessary because it's so under-written. Moreover, the film lingers on needless details and characters, forsaking valuable screen- and story time what would otherwise be used to further develop the conspiracy that lies at the heart of the movie.
Clive Owen's terrible moustache notwithstanding, Killer Elite certainly looks good, and is enjoyable up to a point. But as soon as it starts in with the more "complicated" notions of government-sponsored assassination and clandestine organizations, it gets lost in its own web of intrigue.