Saturday, August 8, 2015

Killer Elite

Watching KILLER ELITE (2011) made me think about other soldier-of-fortune-mercenary-freebooter-pirate-assassin movies I’ve seen and wonder why they fascinate me.

Part of it is because it must be freeing to have nothing left to lose. When you are that willing to die, you don’t worry about much. And if you are that tough, that manly, you don’t need to be careful about what bars you walk into, or what neighborhoods, or about who you mouth off too. No, you’ve none of the worries an ordinary man has as he tries to negotiate between his manly pride and keeping his blessed hide intact.

Jason Statham and Robert Deniro and Clive Owen could never have had the kind of worries the other little boys had in grade school. Can you see Robert DeNiro worrying about an older kid who is going to hijack him on the way home, sit on his chest and spit a big loogey on his face while the other kids stand around and laugh? No, hell would freeze over first. And Clive Owen’s Dad, I am sure, declined to spank the young savage for his insolence, and if Statham went to Catholic School he gave even the hardest Nun pause when she considered smacking him for taking the Lord’s name in vain (which he does almost like he’s got a tic). Even the most savage bully could be reduced to a lifetime of therapy by any one of these guys.

Not only do these guys not ask for directions, drink milk after the expiration date, tug on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind, pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger—they also take on entire governments and win, or at least fight them to a draw.

And they get the hottest women. It is a truth known to every boy, from about third grade on, that girls will say, and even maybe believe, that they like “nice” guys, but that they really want are the barely civilized brutes, the dangerous ones, the ones who live on the edge and beyond the pale, the ones for whom Cialis will never be a necessity, even in their 90’s. Yes, for whatever messed up evolutionary reason, women usually prefer Bluto to Popeye.

And sometimes, at least in the movies, a guy is a savage brute and a nice guy at the same time. Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) is, and after he and Hunter (Robert Deniro) perform an assassination for hire where they kill a man in front of his kid, Danny decides to get out and live a normal life with his beautiful girlfriend Annie (who is his perfect female mirror image, stunning, but with none of the vanity or cruelty that a truly beautiful woman often possesses).

Danny is genuinely tender with Annie and appropriately contrite when she castigates him for being so mysterious about what he does for a living. Instead of telling her she’s the peasant girl and he’s the King and if she doesn’t shut it it’s gonna be bang-zoom-to-the-moon-Alice he tries to be honest with her, and himself, about what he has done.

Hunter and Danny don’t have a mercenary relationship with each other. In fact, when they get caught between the governments of Oman and Great Britain and must do a lot of killing to get each other out of things alive, they stay loyal to each other all the way, even though it means risking themselves. No, it is the governments of the UK and Oman, and their agents, who are guilty of expedience, of sacrificing valiant men in the name of money and power, of being duplicitous, of brute cynicism and a brand of Realpolitik that makes CIA crimes in places like El Salvador look like kid’s play, and it is the pair of friends who stand for something more than brutality, deceit and the almighty dollar.

As I watched this movie about war crimes over oil and power, about geopolitical and personal savagery on a scale that guys like me can only marvel at, I felt little guilty pleasure at being safe at home in my Barcalounger. What a relief to be all relaxed and mildly lubricated by a couple of beers as these guys did things to their enemies, and had things done to them by those enemies, that would have immediately brought me to my knees begging for mercy. These guys mete out beat downs, and take beat downs, that would cripple lesser men (or even your average gorilla) and they come back and do it again in the next scene! I don’t know who can take those kinds of kicks and punches and stay on their feet, no matter how hard they are. Oh, and they say a lot of really great hard-guy type stuff too. The kind of thing I imagine myself trying to say in a bar, until I realize I would only get laughed out of the place, or worse. My favorite is when one guy asks another who he is, and the guy responds, in a great cockney accent—“call me MFWIC, that’s short for the motherfucker what’s in charge.”

It was an interesting movie, perhaps a little more thoughtful than the usual movie of its ilk. The man against the machine, the individual, the man with true merit, being hunted by governments composed of the mediocre, the cowardly and the evil. The very kind of man that society claims to value, the man of integrity and guts, becomes the enemy of the state. Of course, it is a little silly too. I mean, how do such a couple of nice and loyal guys get into the mercenary business anyway? And what do they do when they get out? Manage a Stewart’s? Sell used cars? Give me a break.

I won’t detail all the crosses and double crosses in the movie here. Clive Owen, as Spike Logan, is an EX SAS (kind of a British Navy Seal) officer who gets annoyed when Bryce starts killing SAS officers in order to get Hunter out of the clutches of a Sheikh in Oman who got annoyed when the SAS assassinated three of his sons. Spike and Danny square off a number of times, and develop a mutual respect of the mercenary kind, not exactly a bro-mance, not the kind of friendship where you punch your buddy on the shoulder, but more the kind where you give him a savage kick in the balls.

Danny tries to convince Logan that they have both been betrayed, and that they should get out now while they still can. Danny tells him that he’s not afraid to fight, but that he would prefer not too, not anymore. He just wants out of all the corruption, the savagery, the chaos, and wants to be with Annie ( who can blame him?)

But I couldn’t help but think that you can’t spend your whole life making love to a woman, even a woman like Annie, and Danny is going to have to think of something new to do. I mean, when she is at yoga class, and he can’t find anything to fix around the house, and Reality TV has him feeling in a really violent mood, then what? In THE GODFATHER, Al Pacino (as Michael Corleone) says “I try to get out, but they pull me back in.” And it’s true to a point, but doesn’t part of him want to get back in? It’s like Bryan Cranston (as Walter White) in BREAKING BAD. After all the horrid stuff he has done, real blood crimes, mortal sins, beyond the pale kind of stuff, and after telling his wife it was all done for her and their kid, he finally admits “all right, I did it because I liked it.” And that is the rub, I think, and what makes these characters interesting—we are drawn to things on one level that repulse us on another, and we have to choose every day which level we are going to choose to exist on.

© 2015 Mike Welch

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