With a domestic box office gross of around $53 million worldwide, Killer Elite was a rather underwhelming dud in the fall of 2011. Is it worth a spin on Blu-ray, now that it is available for home viewing? I’d have to say no, as the movie provides little of interest beyond excellent technical specs. No matter how the high definition picture looks or the 5.1 audio sounds (great in both cases), those elements can’t make up for a confusing, poorly told story. Jason Statham junkies are the key demographic for Killer Elite. The English actor has undeniable charisma but more so than the average action star, he seems to portray the same character in every movie. At least The Expendables allowed for him to indulge in some lighter moments.
Killer Elite has nothing to do with Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 film The Killer Elite. In fact, the film is based on a 1991 novel The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes. The novel was a bestseller but raised some eyebrows with its claims of being “based on a true story.” The film version also claims to be based in truth, but whether or not it’s accurate doesn’t really matter much. Perhaps the book is super compelling, I’ve never read it, but if that’s the case the story didn’t translate well to the screen. Danny Bryce (Statham) is a retired mercenary who left the business after carrying out an assassination in front of the targets child. We see this in the film’s exciting opening sequence. Bryce’s partner Hunter (Robert De Niro) continues that line of work, taking a solo job that lands him in captivity. Bryce finds out about his ex-partner’s misfortune, he feels compelled by guilt to bail him out.
In order to free Hunter, Bryce must complete the failed mission. Sheikh Amr (Rodney Afif) lost three of his four sons to British Special Air Service members amidst the Dhofar Rebellion that Britain supported in the 1960s and ’70s. Bryce must do what Hunter failed: kill the SAS agents responsible for the Sheikh’s loss. The clock is ticking, as the Sheikh is terminally ill and very near death. He wants to see proof of the completed mission before he dies. The set-up is fine, but things get complicated to the point where I stopped caring what happened. For this type of story to work, we need to care about Hunter as a character. We need to sympathize with Bryce and his predicament as he is pulled back into a lifestyle he tried to abandon. Clive Owen adds little to the proceedings as an ex-SAS agent.
De Niro really sleep walks through his supporting role. While it isn’t his fault the script gives him little to work with, De Niro does nothing to endear us to Hunter. It’s a little easier to sympathize with Bryce, who genuinely seems tired of killing for a living. But the early scenes give us very little opportunity to appreciate the depth of his friendship with Hunter. Statham turns in his usual gruff characterization, hardly distinguishable from any number of his previous roles. Bryce becomes a lot less sympathetic when he starts trying to fulfill Sheikh Amr’s wishes, killing people whose actions were arguably no less morally questionable than the Sheikh himself. Why should these SAS members die to save a greedy mercenary like Hunter? Killer Elite is an action movie without a hero to root for.
The best reason to watch Killer Elite on Blu-ray is for its stone cold gorgeous visual presentation. Regardless of how bored I was with the actual movie, the startlingly sharp imagery provided something of interest. The rugged landscapes of Australia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates offer plenty of opportunities to show off the 1080p transfer. Close-ups of the grizzled cast member’s faces are detailed enough to practically count individual wrinkles, moles, and blemishes. All lighting conditions register perfectly, from bright, fiery explosions to scenes that play out in dark, shadowy caves. No complaints about the visuals of Killer Elite.
Matching the visual excellence, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides reference quality sound. I wish there was more action throughout the movie, but when there is it’s satisfyingly bombastic. The opening action sequence is one of the film’s best, from a sonic standpoint. Gunfire is loud and realistic. Exploding cars resonate, with deep bass coming from the LFE channel. The rear channels provide lots of chaotic ambiance, such as squealing tires and shouting. Dialogue clarity is never sacrificed during the hubbub. There is a surprising number of quiet scenes, again with intelligible dialogue and often subtle layers of ambiance. But it’s the action sequences that keep things really exciting.
Killer Elite is curiously light on supplemental features. The sole extra is a selection of thirteen deleted scenes that clocks in at less than ten minutes. All of this material falls under the category of “cut for a good reason,” as another ten minutes running time would’ve dragged down the already overlong Killer Elite even further.This director Gary McKendry’s debut feature. While McKendry displays a firm grasp of visaully staging action scenes, hopefully he gets a better story to work with next time.