Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Killer Elite (Gary McKendry, 2011) -- B-

Killer Elite shares considerable commonalities with The Debt, but succeeds because of one major difference: sincerity. Gary McKendry's attention to genre detail makes him far more complex than John Madden; he locates his subjects within a needlessly complex tale of double-crossing SAS agents in 1981 London, caught amidst a suitably (because of time period and generic predecessors) xenophobic narrative involving a sheik of Oman demanding retribution for the murder of his three sons. These plot points allow propulsion towards more dynamic elements, namely the film's inherent critique of politically correct visual rhetoric, which disallows masculine assertion via violent fantasy (the intertwining of history and fetish), Eurocentric in its aims, but proletarian in its grappling with class. Killer Elite is a far better homage to its genre than The Expendables, since it carries its prides and prejudices without irony - there's a degree of resolve missing from most contemporary action films. Nevertheless, McKendry's focus doesn't properly make a 21st century shift, retrograde in its ideas, no more informed than if the film had actually been made in the mid-80's. Both a blessing and a damnation, McKendry is helped immensely by Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, and Clive Owen, who effortlessly carry the flimsy material to loftier heights, even if the effect is ultimately short-lived. If McKendry relied less on emphasizing the veracity of his tale (the end credits go to embarrassing lengths of self-legitimation), he might have been able to turn retro into contempo - a task that (arguably) no action director has been able to successfully complete.

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