Dear Killer Elite,
Most movies fall into one of two camps. Those camps are personal films, character driven stories that depend on us following a single character – or group of characters – because we care about them and are invested in the outcome of their personal stories. The second kind of film is a plot-driven movie, something like a mystery or horror or action film where, to quote one of your star’s earlier, better works, “the action is the juice.” In this kind of film, rather than wanting to know how a certain character ends up, we care about where the plot takes us, what it all means – visceral, bone-deep catharsis through action and resolution takes the place of concern for a character’s life.
A lot of films pick one of these paths and run down it full tilt. Some attempt to mingle the two, with varying levels of success. Rarer is the film that begins one way, briefly flirts with traveling another, then reverts back to its original mannerisms before giving a denouement that finds itself back to its confused second path. Yet somehow you managed to pull off that unfocused hat trick, and though you did manage to be fairly entertaining during that highly confused journey, your lack of commitment to or understanding of a specific path hampers you to an almost lethal extent.
You begin with a fairly rote assassination attempt. Two old-hands – a mentor and his squire – talk shop for a moment before rushing into the fray of a political assassination in Mexico. There are explosions, gunplay, hastily shouted orders. The older of the two is practiced and dispassionate, while the younger freezes upon seeing a child. Thus, the catalyst for his retirement is struck. Giving up the killing game, he goes to Australia, where, one year later, he receives a package. It turns out his mentor tried to renege on a contract, and the only way he will be set free is if the squire pulls off the job his mentor refused.
Thus begins a globe-trotting tale of murder, vengeance, intrigue, oil rights, unjust wars, honor, brotherhood, trade craft, double-crosses, shieks, shifting loyalties, lies, secret societies, guns… sorry, I have no idea where I was going with that. The problem is, neither do you. Within your first fifteen minutes you’ve already gone through a whole movie’s worth of action, double crosses, and cliche. From there, you pile on more and more teams of killers, more motives, more counter motives, and even a strange secret society that is never properly explained or contextualized. Seriously, who were those people, why did they form into a sect in the first place, and what was their place in your story? They start out trying to protect some people, but then just kind of stop caring. I don’t know. You don’t care to tell me what’s going on there. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind this confusion if it weren’t for the fact that you are two hours long and this stuff is obviously supposed to mean something, to be important. For the kind of temporal investment you require I would expect everything to make sense, but rarely does anything.
Only two of your characters get a clear motive for their actions, and one of those men – the mentor, played by Robert DeNiro – is just greedy, so that barely counts. Clive Owen exists as a kind of strongman enforcer for a group of former SAS operatives called the “Feather Men” because of their light touch. But their touch on the story is so light that it makes his entire character arc (if a slight rise can be called an arc) pointless and confusing, and their very inclusion turns out to be your greatest mystery of all.
Jason Statham’s character fairs no better. He is nominally the main character, but he barely gets a motive fleshed out beyond friendship and brotherhood. Toward the end there is a sudden shift, where he must go from saving his mentor to saving his startlingly underdeveloped love interest, and suddenly we’re supposed to care about his desire to “go straight.” I say underdeveloped, by the way, because their romance blossomed during his year in Australia, a year we get maybe two minutes of flashbacks to explain.
In between all of this confusing personal motivation there is a story that could have made a fairly entertaining film. Statham needs to get confessions from three SAS operatives and then kill them in a way that looks like they died in an accident in order to free DeNiro. Meanwhile, Clive Owen must stop him because… well, he doesn’t like people murdering his friends. I guess. What follows from here is a story strangely similar to Munich, of all things, in its complexity and basic beats. However, whereas that movie fused Big Ideas with personal touches and solid action, you mince together whatever happened to spring into your mind at the time. It’s like your whole script was written by a young child who had just seen Munich and then watched a derivite action film and then tried to get his friends to act out one, accidently splicing scenes from the other into the mix.
Still, you’ve got your merits. Despite what your advertising campaign would have one believe, your action is pretty grounded and you come off as fairly realistic in your displays of assassination trade craft. You have some thrilling set pieces and your actors are all convincingly tough and intense, but God only knows why. Where is this passion coming from?
So what do I say in closing? I don’t know. You should have taken some time to parse out whether you wanted to be a personal tale of human redemption following a life of killing, or the tale of a group of hardened killers all out for blood. You should have picked one, maybe two themes – brotherhood, honor, love, human nature, the immutability of the human spirit, the way war/killing changes you, etc. – and stuck with those. You should have not been two hours long. You should have been better.
Brian J. Roan
I know I sort of already mentioned this, but you need to fire whoever it was who was in control of your marketing. The posters and trailers they had attached to you all advertised something that seemed far inferior to what you strove to be. Maybe this was because they wanted to mask your assumed failures, but I think you deserve some honesty in advertising. Nothing I saw related to you made me think you’d be a grounded, slightly realistic period piece with a far reaching and fairly believable geopolitical espionage tint. Even with all your stumbles, you deserve better than what they gave you. The same is true for your title.