If you're already in the habit of enjoying Jason Stratham and Clive Owen in generally mindless, easily consumable action flicks, then 'Killer Elite' shouldn't disappoint. Or at least, it shouldn't disappoint too much. Inspired by Ranulph Fiennes' 'The Feather Men,' this is the usual play of explosions, covert operations, gunfights, and hand-to-hand combat we've come to enjoy since the 'Bourne' series. If you're also comfortable watching Robert De Niro consign his legendary, award-winning stature to yet another B-quality picture, then you're three for three, and 'Killer Elite' is just up your alley.
In truth, the espionage crime-thriller from Gary McKendry, making his feature-length debut, isn't all that terrible, but it's also not very good or particularly memorable, except for its three stars and the fact that it takes its plot from real events. I have to say, I never seem to tire of movies which make it a point to remind viewers they're watching something based on a true story. As if that was incentive enough to ignore a movie's drawbacks. But sadly, it's not. If anything, knowing such information only makes it worse, especially in the action genre, as we end up spending a good chunk of the time wondering about its plausibility. And does the real-life assassin even remotely share Mr. Statham's handsome ruggedness?
This is not the overall conundrum ruining the enjoyment of 'Killer Elite, ' but it does end up playing a small part in a story about mercenaries, secret killer organizations, a conspiracy over oil and a father's revenge. Statham is a soldier of fortune brought out of retirement after his closest friend (De Niro) is held captive by a deposed Oman king. Securing his friend's freedom comes at the price of killing three SAS agents responsible for murdering the king's three sons. Already we see something brewing which actually sets McKendry's film apart from other such mindless actioners.
The plot comes with some complicated aspects which are admittedly never fully explored but keep us engaged nonetheless, long enough to see it through to the end, and that should count for something. The filmmakers show Statham's character as being conflicted and reluctant, but his loyalty to his friend always remains the driving force for doing something he clearly hates. Statham's team is made up of two more loyal friends in Aden Young and Dominic Purcell, dressed like Lemmy of Motörhead.
On the other end, we have Clive Owen's secret operative from a clandestine organization called "Feather Men" whose loyalties are also to protecting his SAS comrades. We're given only one scene showing his retired home life, but it's a terrifically revealing one that makes clear his passion for this sort of hush-hush operation.
When the two opposing forces finally meet, the match is an entertaining all-out brawl that's well-earned because McKendry takes his time with the characters reaching that point. 'Killer Elite' is nothing spectacular, but this is its saving grace from forgotten mediocrity: action is secondary to the characters and the mystery of who's really pulling the strings in a situation that may or may not have happened in the early 1980s. With striking cinematography from Simon Duggan ('I, Robot,' 'Underworld: Evolution'), McKendry debuts with a throwaway espionage actioner, but he mixes some good elements into the narrative and delivers a guilt-free way of killing a couple hours.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Killer Elite' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy included. Both discs — one a Region Free, BD50 and the other a DVD-9 on opposing panels — are housed inside a normal blue keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc commences with the usual assortment of trailers from the internet, which can be skipped to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
'Killer Elite' debuts with a killer 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) that stays true to the stylized photography of Simon Duggan ('Knowing,' 'Live Free or Die Hard'). The palette changes according to the story's location, leaning towards warm sepia tones in the desert and suddenly shifting to steely blues when in London. Colors remain mostly accurate and bold through these adjustments, and flesh tones are understandably effected but don't hamper the picture's enjoyment.
The high-def transfer also shows outstanding, near-reference quality resolution for a majority of the movie's runtime. Close-ups are particularly revealing and razor-sharp, exposing every wrinkle on Robert De Niro's face and makes Jason Stratham seem scruffier than usual. From the cold, dreary streets of London to the dry, desert hills of Oman, the video is exceptionally well-detailed. Contrast is spot-on with brilliant whites. Black levels are deep and true with nighttime sequences in Paris looking especially gorgeous, providing the image with a nice depth of field.
Right from the beginning, during a botched job in Mexico, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for 'Killer Elite' shows how the rest of the movie will play out. The deliberate sound design isn't one to immediately win over listeners with tons of immersive action.
The high-rez track is a generally front-heavy presentation with a soundstage the feels broad and generates a great sense of space. Most of the discrete effects are off-screen and channel separation is very well-balanced. Vocals are precise and rendered perfectly in the center, so much on the film's focus is on the dialogue of characters. When sudden commotion explodes across the screen, the rears come alive with the musical score of Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, all at once pulling the viewer into the middle of the action. The midrange maintains excellent clarity and differentiation of various noises, some of which pan into the back speakers with flawless movement. Bass also joins in with commanding authority and solid force, making the overall lossless mix a very nice surprise.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Killer Elite' features the same lonely supplement as its day-and-date standard-def counterpart.
Making his feature-length debut, director Gary McKendry delivers an entertaining espionage crime-caper with the usual thrills and action, but the movie also tries to include an intriguing plot and good characterization into the mix. With Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro in the leads, 'Killer Elite' is, in the end, an easy, guilt-free way of killing a couple hours. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation, but a meager collection of supplements. The overall package, however, should make fans happy and others will want to give it a rent before deciding.