Friday, December 09, 2016

The Killer Elite

Based on the novel Monkey in the Middle by Robert Syd Hopkins, The Killer Elite is the story of an American spy who has been betrayed by his best friend as he finds himself wanting revenge unaware of a power struggle that is emerging for the company they work for. Directed by Sam Peckinpah and screenplay by Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant, the film is a suspense-thriller that plays into a man who tries to cope with betrayal as well as wondering about his loyalty to the people he work for. Starring James Caan, Robert Duvall, Burt Young, Bo Hopkins, Mako, Arthur Hill, and Gig Young. The Killer Elite is a compelling and thrilling film from Sam Peckinpah.

Following an assignment that ends with betrayal and injury, the film is about a spy who works for a private company as he struggles to get back in the game and seek revenge. It’s a film that play into an ever-changing world where a spy who is known for doing his job and having fun is given a rude awakening where his assignment to protect a defector leaves him wounded where his best friend shot him in the elbow and on a kneecap. The film’s script is quite straightforward as it play into the struggle of its protagonist Mike Locken (James Caan) would endure in getting himself back up as well as return to work despite the fact that his superiors believe he’s done. Yet, he would accept an assignment to protect a Chinese political figure who is eager to return to his home country while dealing with Asian rivals as well as his friend George Hansen (Robert Duvall). Yet, Locken and Hansen are both unaware of what is happening behind the scenes as it relates to the ideas of what men want to control their idea of the world.

Sam Peckinpah’s direction is actually quite restrained in some aspects with the exception of its climax which bear many of the elements of stylish violence that he’s known for. Shot entirely on location in San Francisco and areas near the city, the film is quite straightforward as Peckinpah would create some nice wide and medium shots of the locations to play into this sense of a world that is very modern but the characters are quite comfortable with the setting. There are some close-ups to play into some of the suspense along with the medium shots as Peckinpah knows how to maintain some momentum and build it up. At the same time, there are elements that showcases what is going on behind the scenes as it relates to the ideals that Locken hold about doing his job in the hope to do something good.

Yet, there is an air of cynicism as it is more about power and wanting to maintain some form of the status quo with greed also being a factor. Especially in the confrontation between Locken and Hansen as it shows two men who are forced to deal with the emergence of a new world order. It is later followed by another confrontation where one is about honor but the other is about the realities of a new world where ideals and loyalty would become obsolete. Overall, Peckinpah crafts a fascinating yet gripping thriller about a spy’s thirst for revenge complicated by those he is working for.

Cinematographer Philip Lathrop does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of low-key lighting for some of the interior/exterior settings at night to the gorgeous look of the scenes set in the daytime. Editors Monte Hellman and Tony de Zarraga do terrific work with the editing as it has some stylish montage sequences that play into Locken‘s attempt to get revenge with a scene of what is going on in the company he works for as well as some stylish jump-cuts. Production designer Haworth and set decorator Rick Gentz do nice work with the set design from the look of the home Locken would live in his recovery to the secret base of a Chinese client that he is trying to protect.

Costume designer Ray Summers does wonderful work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with the exception of the old-school Chinese garb that the Chinese clients wear. Sound editor Fred Brown does superb work with the sound as it play into some of the violence as well as some of the sparse moments in the quieter scenes in the film. The film’s music by Jerry Fielding is brilliant for its mixture of jazz and orchestral music as it play into the suspense and sense of action as it is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Jane Feinberg and Mike Fenton is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Tiana Alexandra as Yuen Chung‘s daughter Tommie, Kate Heflin as Locken‘s nurse Amy, Victor Sei Yung as an associate of Chung in Wei Chei, Takayuki Kubota as a rival Japanese mob figure wanting to take out Chung, Tom Clancy as Hansen‘s right-hand man O‘Leary, and Helmut Dantine as the Eastern European client Vorodny whom Locken and Hansen were protecting in the film‘s opening sequence. Bo Hopkins is terrific as Locken’s weapons specialist Jerome Miller who is good with guns while Mako is fantastic as the Chinese political figure Yuen Chung who is eager to return to his home country in the hopes of bringing some form of democracy to the country. Burt Young is brilliant as Mac as a civilian who is Locken’s getaway driver and associate who is also the film’s conscience of sorts where he goes into detail over what Locken is fighting for and why it doesn’t mean anything.

Gig Young is superb as Weybourne as a private security leader who is trying to do whatever he can to maintain his own status in the spy business while using both Locken and Hansen to clean up his dirty work. Arthur Hill is amazing as Cap Collis as Locken’s superior who gives Locken the assignments as he deals with Weybourne in a power struggle where he wants some control but for his own selfish reasons. Robert Duvall is remarkable as George Hansen as a spy who is trying to survive for himself as he copes with what he had to do for Locken while also coping with this emergence of a new world order that he isn’t sure he wants to be a part of. Finally, there’s James Caan in an incredible performance as Mike Locken as a spy who has been betrayed and nearly crippled as he seeks revenge while also dealing with what he has and trying to hold on to some idealism that is starting to become obsolete in a more cynical and crueler world where it isn’t about doing the right thing.

The Killer Elite is a remarkable film from Sam Peckinpah that features excellent performances from James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Burt Young. While it may be considered one of Peckinpah’s weaker films, it is still a fascinating suspense-thriller that does play into Peckinpah’s fascination with man and changing times as well this growing sense of cynicism where honor and loyalty are becoming non-existent. In the end, The Killer Elite is a marvelous film from Sam Peckinpah.

Sam Peckinpah Films: The Deadly Companions - Ride the High Country - Major Dundee - Noon Wine - The Wild Bunch - The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Straw Dogs - Junior Bonner - The Getaway - Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - Cross of Iron - Convoy - The Osterman Weekend - The Auteurs #62: Sam Peckinpah

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