Perhaps you sought out a review for the movie Killer Elite because the names Jason Statham and Clive Owen are attached to it. If this is the case, you probably decided to investigate because these two actors have historically offered you just the brand of handgun-wielding badassery you expect, nay, demand, from your action movies. You were probably hoping for awesome feats of professional ass kicking involving office chairs, false identities, and corrupted brake lines. If these are the circumstances that brought you here, you are on the right track. You want to see Killer Elite.
You want to see it because it's supposedly based on a true story -- although memoirs involving the U.K. Special Forces are rarely confirmed or denied by the British government. You want to see it for the aviator sunglasses and European leather jackets. You want to see it because it stars Jason Statham as a badass SAS agent who spends most of the movie running all over 1980s London, assassinating people and making it look like an accident. You want to see it because all the while, he's hunted by Clive Owen, who sports a strapping, Burt Reynolds-style mustache and rides around in a silver Jag XJ6 Series II.
Are you excited? Enthralled? Can't wait to sink your teeth into a slick action thriller with a smattering of political intrigue and an extensive use of the most-badass special-ops corps in military history? Good, because if that description doesn't hook you, you're not going to get much out of this movie. Based on Sir Ranulph Fiennes' novel The Feather Men, Killer Elite stars Statham as a retired assassin named Danny Bryce. Danny's had enough of the secret-agent lifestyle and has returned to his rural hometown in Australia, but he was once the best of the best when it comes to expert hired killers, working as an operative for England's elite Special Air Service (think MI6 meets the Navy SEALs). He gets pulled back into the fray, however, when his mentor, a genial old father figure named Hunter (Robert De Niro), gets kidnapped by a powerful sheikh from Dubai, who's holding him hostage in order to force Danny to accept a job. Evidently, the sheikh has a grudge against the British military, since he got burned during England's semicovert involvement in the Oman conflict of the 1970s. Three of his sons were killed during that war, and now he wants the three British soldiers responsible for their deaths to repay him in blood. But it gets better: he wants each hit to look like an accident, so he can't be implicated. And he wants them to confess to their crimes on tape before they get the axe. No small task, but that's why the sheik forced Danny out of retirement to take the job. Danny's the best hired killer in the world, and if he doesn't carry out the sheik's orders, the closest thing to a dad that he has in this cutthroat world will be buried in a hole in the Arabian Desert.
Extorted for his unparalleled skills as a professional killer, Danny reluctantly takes on the job and assembles a crew of trusted knockabout guys to do the impossible and employ all practiced means of undercover work, sabotage, and brute force to take out targets just as cunning and highly trained as they are. The only one who catches onto his game is yet another former SAS operative named Spike (Clive Owen). Spike is the man on the ground for a group of powerful special-ops retirees who call themselves the Feather Men -- so named because they now use their weighty positions in society to pull the strings with a light touch. Spike suspects foul play when he hears about former comrades succumbing to dubious accidental deaths, and he sets himself on a path to an inevitable badass-against-badass showdown with Danny.
It all makes for a solid action flick, one that never falls victim to poor editing or bad pacing, as failed thrillers often do. The stunts and action sequences are expertly shot, and while Statham has made a name for himself as the high-kicking prince of no-rules cinema (read: The Transporter, Crank) director Gary McKendry keeps the insanity down to a shout here, with action scenes that are satisfyingly wild, but not intentionally impossible. And whether or not the story is based in fact, placing the narrative in the 1980s does lend the film a very cool sense of atmosphere. It's fun to see modern action heroes pitted against each other in a slightly different setting. There are no cell phones or GPS devices, and in order to hack a truck's steering column, the characters use a wood-paneled box covered in red lights and clicking dials. If nothing else, it feels novel. And you can suspend disbelief a lot more easily when your brain isn't weeding out inconvenient facts about the present day to make room for the film's events (even when they purport themselves to be real).
It should also be mentioned that while most period films about the '70s and '80s photograph everything in a saturated range of yellow and orange filters, Killer Elite uses a cool blue tone to capture the streets of Western Europe, lending an extra note of slickness to scenes already impeccably art directed -- from the vintage Euro-edition cars populating every chase, to the crowds of extras rocking lean, denim flares. It's those touches that raise the movie a notch up from others, if you appreciate style. And if you don't, it still has plenty of explosions.