Friday, September 23, 2011

Killer Elite

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Killer Elite (directed and screenplay cowritten by Gary McKendry along with Matt Sherring based on the based in truth novel The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes) is the story of a hit team hired by an Omani sheik seeking to avenge the deaths of three of his sons at the hands of British SAS agents in a clandestine "dirty" war fought at the end of the colonial era in the 1960s over control of Oman's potential oil reserves.  Oman today remains (on paper) one of the poorest and least open countries in the oil rich Persian Gulf region.

In the story taking place in the early 1990s, a shadowy former mercenary assassin named Danny (played by Jason Statham) after what he had hoped would be his retirement, is sucked into "one last job." He receives a letter at his ranch way out in the outback of Australia with a photo of his former partner Hunter (played by Robert DeNiro) being held hostage with the request Danny fly out to Oman to work-out his release.  When Danny arrives in Oman, he is taken to the dying elderly sheik who gives him the assignment of assembling a hit team to assassinate the three SAS agents who assassinated his three sons during the dirty war fought in Oman in the 1960s.  Specifically, he wanted Danny and his team to (1) find the three men responsible for his sons' deaths, (2) record the three men's confessions, (3) record their deaths, and (4) make each of the killings look like an accident.  After receiving the record confirmations of the three agents' confessions and killings, the sheik would let Hunter go free and pay the two $6 million for their troubles.

What a seemingly impossible assignment!  Yet after initially trying (and failing) to simply overcome Hunter's guards and spring him free, Danny leaves Oman to set about assembling his team.  By casing the right pubs and talking to the right spooks, Danny and his team are soon able to identify the three former SAS agents responsible for assassinating the Omani sheik's three dead sons.  And they come up with ingenious ways of both extracting confessions and then killing 2 of the 3, each time making their deaths look like an accident. (By the time they get around to dealing with the third former agent, they realize that they probably won't be able capture that agent in order to extract a confession.  However, they remain that they could certainly kill him in a way that still looks like an accident.  And they figured that as long as the former agent was dead, the Omani sheik would accept the results as completed by the team). 

However, the team soon finds out however that these three former SAS agents weren't exactly living "naked," that is, without protection.  Danny's team soon catches the radar of a shadowy ODESSA-like organization of former SAS officers, who called themselves the The Feathermen for their desire/ability to keep a light profile even as they continued to profit on various dirty enterprises that they entered into while still serving in the SAS.  The principal man responsible for the security of the other "Feathermen" was a man nicknamed Spike (played by Clive Owen).  At first Spike, didn't understand who hitting them and why.  However, after receiving a report of the untoward death of the second agent, he has a pretty good idea who'll be the third (hence why Danny's team also "simplifies" their plan for assassinating the third agent.  However, by now Spike and his team is going after Danny's team as well).

All this makes for a fascinating spy story, invoking images of the Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible novels and movies as well as the real-life story of the Israeli hit-squad sent-out to assassinate the Palestinians responsible for organizing the Black September terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Games, immortalized in the movie Munich (2005).

What makes this movie, Killer Elite, all the more fascinating is Ranuel Fiennes' claim that the story is based on truth.  Discussing this story in community here, we were joking that this movie would probably prove rather popular among Catholics in Northern Ireland who don't particularly have a great love for the SAS given that it was notorious for all kinds of similar shenanigans during "the Troubles" of the 1960s-80s there.

Certainly between Munich (2005), The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) another movie based on a book claiming to be based in fact, Unknown (2011) a more fictionalized thriller but invoking former assassination squads existing on both sides of the Cold war and even The Debt (2011) a movie reminding one of various Mossad operations in the past, one gets the sense that a lot more has been going on in the world (in regards to intelligence operations) than many of us may have previously thought. 

Interestingly enough, one of the themes of this particular movie, Killer Elite, was the desire of Danny to "find a way out" of that way of life.  In the movie, we never really find out how Danny and his partner Hunter first got involved in such undercover, assassination work.  However, we could perhaps sympathize with Danny's desire to get out.

This is the second recent Hollywood film to touch on this topic of wishing to extract oneself from a life of crime, that is, sin, the other recent film being Drive.  These may serve as a good reminder to all of us, that whenever we flirt with Evil (sin), we may find ourselves in a situation from which it becomes very hard to extract ourselves.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation _does help_ by righting ourselves at least with God.  There still may be people that we may have hurt and other damage for which we will need to pay.  But righting ourselves with God becomes an enormous (and truly helpful) first step in being able to face the further challenges ahead.

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