Set in the early 80s, Jason Statham stars as a former CIA assassin who tired of the life and moved to the Yarra Valley in Victoria to retire and hook up with a local girl, played by Yvonne Strahovski. However when his friend and mentor Robert De Niro is kidnapped by a sheikh in Oman who has an axe to grind, and uses De Niro to lure Statham out and persuade him to track down the killers of his sons. The killers are apparently ex-SAS men, and Statham’s job is to kill each of them without it leading back to the sheikh. Make the killings look like accidents, basically. However, just as Statham and his band of brothers are pros, there is another group of shadowy men, known as The Feather Men led by ex-SAS man Clive Owen, who are attempting to protect the four men. Dominic Purcell, Michael Dorman, and Aden Young are among Statham’s team, with the former being a burly brawler of dubious Welsh lineage and unpredictable temperament. Matthew Nable and Ben Mendelsohn turn up for Owen’s side. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays the dubious broker of the whole operation.
The reviews for this Gary McKendry (a debutant) spy flick with action movie leanings, have been mixed. I personally enjoyed it, and I think it’s best if you go into it thinking it’s a Jason Statham movie. If you do that, you might be a bit disappointed with how little action there is, but you can’t deny that it’s a loftier and weightier assignment than Statham normally gets (It’s kind of like “Ronin” meets “Where Eagles Dare” but more globe-trotting). It’s no classic, hell it’s not even as fun as the “Crank” movies, but I think it’s a pretty good, old-fashioned ‘guy movie’.
I must say, though, that I was not a fan of the film’s structure. The constant back and forth with flashbacks and globe-trotting got annoying in just the opening twenty minutes. I personally found the flashback scenes between Statham and Yvonne Strahovski (an Aussie much better known overseas than here, so people- even Aussies- might be shocked to hear her real accent) to be unnecessary padding, true story or not. It was nice to see the Yarra Valley locations, but otherwise, I didn’t see the need for these scenes at all. Having said that, the film doesn’t exactly have pacing issues even with all the padding. Those first twenty minutes move by pretty quickly- De Niro is kidnapped within ten minutes.
Next to the “Crank” movies, this is Statham’s best work on screen, he’s really good here. He also seems to invent a new form of martial art, Chair Fu, in one great scene. Although he’s not on screen enough, the similarly taciturn Clive Owen is a good match for Statham too. I’m not a fan of the Jason Bourne camera style, but the fight scene between Statham and Owen is good, brawling stuff. Robert De Niro plays a role so useless that I wish someone like Jean Reno, Harvey Keitel or Dennis Farina had taken it. However, and it’s a big however, this is the most committed performance De Niro has given since “The Score”. True, the guy’s been slumming it since about 1996 (to be charitable), but he’s rock-solid here and better than his role. The supporting cast, meanwhile, is full of Aussie actors- hell, even Clive Owen has an Aussie connection having filmed “The Boys Are Back” over here a couple of years ago. There’s at least 24 Aussies here (!), including Kiwi born Michael Dorman (we’ll claim him), as well as veterans Nick Tate (“The Coolangatta Gold”), Billie Brown, and Michael Carman, among many others. Dominic Purcell (best known for the US TV series “Prison Break”), Aden Young (playing a pipe-smoking Yank), and Firass Dirani probably being the most prominent. Purcell has the difficult task of playing a guy who is meant to be a phony-sounding Welshman. I personally think his awful accent- presumably deliberate- is a poor choice (So are the greasy hair and moustache, I must say). He should’ve played it with a genuinely good accent, it wouldn’t change the character one bit. Still, he’s lively and amusing in the part, if way over-the-top. Moving offshore for a second, I also want to make note of the rock-solid work of Mr. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, in a small but enjoyable role.
I have to say that this is a damn good-looking film. It’s shot in Michael Mann digital-style, but with all the good qualities of Mann’s style (“Heat”) and none of the bad (“Miami Vice”, “Public Enemies”). It’s a good yarn (good soundtrack too!), and much better-paced and exciting than I found the stodgy “Ronin” to be I must say, but there’s just too much unnecessary filler that prevents it from being even better. I was surprised, though, because I wasn’t expecting much from this at all.
The screenplay is by the director and Mike Sherring, based on the supposedly factual book The Feather Men by adventurer and former SAS man Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The fact that the author plays a part in the film’s plot is a little odd and possibly pretentious if you ask me.