In 1864, due to frequent Apache raids from Mexico into the U.S., a Union officer decides to illegally cross the border and destroy the Apache, using a mixed army of Union troops, Confederate POWs, civilian mercenaries, and scouts.
Mike Locken is one of the principal members of a group of freelance spies. A significant portion of their work is for the C.I.A. and while on a case for them, one of his friends turns on him and shoots him in the elbow and knee. His assignment, to protect someone, goes down in flames. He is nearly crippled, but with braces is able to again become mobile. For revenge as much as anything else, Mike goes after his ex-friend. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sam Peckinpah was assigned to direct this film by Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists at the time. Medavoy believed in Peckinpah's abilities, but knew that it was virtually impossible for Peckinpah to get a job with any of the studios, as he had alienated virtually everyone in Hollywood by that time. When this project came along, Medavoy knew it was perfect for Peckinpah, and gave it to him, but under the conditions that he worked under Medavoy's strict supervision. Peckinpah agreed. See more »
At 49 minutes, when Mike is leaving Amy's house, the close-up of Mike getting into his car shows two children playing nearby but in the long shots the children are not there. See more »
This film is a work of fiction. There is no company called Communications Integrity NOR ComTeg and the thought the C.I.A. might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous. See more »
The problem with "The Killer Elite" is that just by seeking this film out, and investing time to watch it, you are putting more effort into the experience than many of its principals did, particularly director Sam Peckinpah.
The already volatile Peckinpah was heading into rough weather with this film. According to at least one biographer, this was where he became acquainted with cocaine. Add to that his binge drinking, and it's no wonder things fell apart.
It's a shame, because the concept behind the film is a good one, and the first ten minutes promise much. Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are private contractors who do a lot of dirty work for the CIA. They move quick, live well, and seem like the best of friends - then something happens to shatter their brotherhood.
An opening scene shows them blowing up a building - why exactly we aren't told, par for the course in terms of this film's murky motivation. But the implication is these guys hurt people and don't really care - antiheroes much like the Wild Bunch of Peckinpah's not-so-long-ago. An opening title tells us they work for ComTeg, then adds with obvious tongue in cheek "...the thought the CIA might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous." That's a pretty clever way of letting the audience know all bets are off.
Add to that a traditionally strong Peckinpah backup cast, including Burt Young, Gig Young, and Peckinpah regular Bo Hopkins in the plum role of a madman who can't pass up an opportunity to be shot at for $500 a day, and you only wish that the scriptwriters, including the celebrated Sterling Silliphant, tried to do something more with the story than turn it into a platform for lazy one-liners and bad chop-socky knockoffs. An attempt at injecting a dose of liberal social commentary is awkwardly shoehorned in. "You're so busy doing their dirty work, you can't tell who the bad guys are," someone tells Locken, as if either he or we need it pointed out.
Worse still are Peckinpah's clumsy direction and sluggish pacing. We're 40 minutes into the film before we get our first battle scene, a completely chaotic collection of random shots where a bunch of people we haven't even met before are seen fighting at San Francisco Airport, their battle intercut with a conversation in an office suite.
By the end of the film, what's left of the cast is having a battle inside a fleet of mothballed Victory Ships, ninjas running out in the open to be gunned down while Caan tosses off one liners that undercut any hint of real suspense. "Lay me seven-to-five, I'll take the little guy," he wisecracks just before a climatic samurai duel between two ninja warriors - from China, which we all know is the land of the Ninja. (The battle takes place in San Francisco, but surprisingly no Mounties arrive to break things up.)
Caan is much better in smaller scenes, like when Locken, recovering from some nasty injuries, is told by one of his bosses, played by a smooth Arthur Hill, that he's been "Humpty-dumped" by the organization. Caan refuses to stay down, and his recovery scenes, though momentum-killing for the movie, feature fine acting from him and Amy Heflin, Van's daughter, as a supportive nurse. Caan was one of the 1970s' best actors, and his laconic byplay with Heflin, Duvall, Hopkins, and both Youngs give "Killer Elite" real watchability.
But you don't watch "Killer Elite" thinking about that. You watch it thinking of the film that got away.
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