The Killer Elite Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Twilight Time
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Written by Marc Norman and Stirling Siliphant
1975, Region A, 122 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on September 9th, 2014
Limited to 3,000 copies.
James Caan as Mike Locken
Robert Duvall as George Hansen
Bo Hopkins as Jerome Miller
Burt Young as Mac
Mako as Yuen Chung
Tiana as Tommie
Gig Young as Lawrence Weyburn
Arthur Hill as Cap Collis
Tom Clancy as O'Leary
Mike Locken works for an organization that specializes in protecting people on a short-term basis. The company has connections to the CIA, and Mike's primary job is to keep a client alive long enough to be moved from one safe location to the next. He works with his friend George Hansen, and they balance the tedium of playing babysitter during the day with excessive partying all night. When their normal routine is compromised and at least one person is left dead, Mike awakens in a hospital with two bullet wounds that have shattered his knee and elbow. Faced with a bleak prognosis, Mike is determined to tackle physical therapy as aggressively as possible in order to walk again without assistance. He studies martial arts to strengthen his muscles and to learn ways to use his cane for self defense. After a few months, to everyone's surprise, Mike is on his way to a decent recovery.
Following a failed assassination attempt on a Chinese diplomat and his daughter, Mike is called out of retirement in order to protect them long enough to leave the country. As added incentive, Mike learns that the man responsible for destroying his life, is now seeking to kill these people. By accepting this assignment, our hero can have the best of both worlds: protecting innocent people while seeking bloody revenge. Old friends (and former co-workers) Mac and Miller are called in to assist and soon the challenge to keep their new client alive is on. Car chases and gun fights lead our heroes from the San Francisco airport to the back alleys of Chinatown and out to an abandoned naval yard. Before this job is over, Mike will learn an ugly lesson in the layered difference between loyalty and betrayal.
Director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) was one of the most manly men to ever walk the planet. His directing style didn't earn him many fans within the studio system, but when at the top of his game, the work was so goddamn good, no one could refuse him. The Killer Elite is not one of his strongest efforts, partly due to script tinkering and studio interference, as well as personal issues the director was facing at the time. Themes of protecting important intangibles, loyalty, friendship and honor in a cold and cynical world run through many of this legendary filmmaker's best works, and here they include reflections on giving over to temptation. Audiences will recognize many familiar observations on the concept of the righteous man living in a wicked world, but Peckinpah keeps things fresh with a few surprising reversals.
James Caan (Misery) stars as Mike, the honorable protagonist of the piece. Though not as sullen as other Peckinpah protagonists, some of Caan's best moments come when his character is at his weakest. Robert Duvall (The Great Santini) is George, the cynical friend who changes Mike's way of seeing the world. These actors have fantastic chemistry and are instantly likeable no matter what the context of their scenes. It is particularly nice to see these two pros sharing the screen again following their stint in The Godfather a few years earlier. Bo Hopkins (The Getaway) is endearing as the always-smiling Jerome, a dangerous yet friendly man. Some of his best scenes are with perennial blue-collar hero Burt Young (Amityville II: The Possession) as Mac. The two play well off each other, with Young's reserved energy and casual observations of what is wrong with this lifestyle keeping the crew grounded. Mako (The Sand Pebbles) provides a gravitas to his role that for the majority of his screen time limits him to protecting his daughter until he is given the opportunity to defend his honor.
The Killer Elite is a frustratingly uneven film that bounces between high-octane action and the tedious rigors of physical therapy. Furthering the occasionally bonkers presentation of this story is the seemingly mandatory inclusion of ninjas in any action flick that has an Asian angle. Martial arts are cool, but they don't actually add much this time around. While not everything works, there is a solid story here that delivers at its own awkward pace. Even if this may be considered “lesser” Peckinpah, it is still highly engaging and comes easily recommended...with ninjas.
Video and Audio:
The Killer Elite is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the quality is rather pleasing. The original DVD release was non-anamorphic and fairly muted, while this new edition corrects both issues. Colors and black levels are strong and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
A DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track faithfully presents the original audio recording and contains a surprising level of depth. The action scenes benefit from a nice blend of music and sound effects that do not step on dialogue levels.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
An audio commentary with film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and Nick Redmon is engaging and informative. Much of the content surrounds not only the history of this particular project, but also sheds light on the legendary director during this phase of his career.
Longtime fans of the director will be happy to note that Sam Peckinpah's long-lost Noon Wine episode of ABC's Stage '67 television program has been included here. Adapted from Katherine Anne Porter's novella, the piece stars Jason Robards and Olivia de Havilland. Check it out and be sure to listen to the audio commentary provided by the returning trio of Seydor, Simmons and Redman.
Passion and Poetry: Sam's Killer Elite is a half-hour section from a longer Peckinpah documentary that focuses on the making of this picture, including some behind-the-scenes footage.
A collection of marketing materials are showcased in the cleverly-titled Promoting the Killer Elite (4 minutes).
The film's musical score is presented in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. The stereo mix enhances the levels of those found within the film and this is a nice addition to this release.
The original theatrical trailer is paired with a collection of TV and radio spots to round out the special features on this disc.
The package comes with a six-page booklet with a thoughtful essay written by Julie Kirgo.
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