Opening 27 Oct 2011
Mexico, 1979. Danny (Jason Statham), part of a hired killer team, brutally ambushes a limousine in a convoy of police escorts. He ruthlessly assassinates his target, and then fatally hesitates upon spying a ten-year-old boy beside the victim in the backseat. He stands paralyzed, unable to kill the child, giving the armed police escort a chance to shoot him in the shoulder. His daring partner Hunter (Robert De Niro) snatches Danny away from the scene before he is shot again. As they drive away Danny thanks Hunter for saving his life, but confesses that his days as a hired killer are over. The two part ways.
Danny moves back to the Australian bush, his childhood home. A year passes in which time he renovates a crumbling farmhouse and a broken life. Just when he is beginning to get romantically reacquainted with a childhood friend Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), a message comes that Hunter has been abducted; only Danny can save him. Reluctantly returning to a life he wanted desperately to leave behind, Danny sets off to Oman to meet a renegade Arab chieftain who has imprisoned Hunter. In exchange for Hunter’s life the Sheikh demands Danny take on the contract to kill the three British SAS ex-operatives who had murdered his three sons, make their deaths look accidental, and elicit tape recordings of their confessions.
Danny sets off to Britain and successfully kills the first victim. Though it looks like an accidental death, it sets off alarm bells for his mirror nemesis, Spike (Clive Owen). Spike is an ex-SAS soldier who has retired from active duty, but still lives in the days of former glory, consumed by loyalty to his fellow soldiers. Spike is aligned with a shadowy group of men known as the Feather Men, an elite group of ex-SAS operatives with connections to their former colleagues, but ultimately allegiance only to themselves. It’s a game of wits between two hit men, Danny and Spike, with Danny plotting his slayings to save his mentor Hunter, and Spike doing all in power to stop him, then, eventually, to avenge his friends’ deaths. When Danny is captured by Spike, Danny says, “You and I have a lot in common” which within the next ten seconds proves to be true. Both have become targets of the Feather Men, both are ultimately pawns, marionettes, and victims of the men with real power. The film is based on a book by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and truth and fiction become unwittingly intertwined.
The characters in this violent action film are never fully developed. Danny is obviously the good guy. Not only does he hesitate killing the boy in Mexico, he is concerned about innocent bystanders being hurt when planning to assassinate the third ex-SAS soldier. After he successfully completes his contract, he is sent back to London by the Sheikh’s son for yet another kill and jeopardizes Hunter’s life by only using a stun gun, not real bullets. However, it cannot be said that Jason Statham (Danny) isn’t appealing. He is the alluring, hunky action hero with a heart of gold. (Was it just my imagination that the cameraman usually filmed him cropping the top of his head so as not to show his thinning hairline?) Clive Owen (Spike) isn’t meant to look good considering he is a wounded ex-SAS soldier, blind in one eye. His ridiculous mustache makes him look like Snidely Whiplash of the Dudley Do-Right cartoon series. It is a challenge throughout the movie to take him seriously; he is little more than the caricature of a real villain. De Niro (Hunter) is always a treat to look at, a little eye candy for his aging fans. There is one scene in the Paris metro where he saves the life of Danny’s girl; it evokes a sense of what could have been if only De Niro had been given more than just a cameo role. (Pat Frickey)