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'Killer Elite' director scores on an equally elite cast

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Making the scene: From left: Clive Owen

Reading British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ 1991 best-seller “The Feather Men” — a supposedly fact-based chronicle of trained assassins and Special Air Service enforcers engaged in mortal combat — Gary McKendry dared to envision “Killer Elite,” the movie that would become his first feature, about a shadowy world of warriors who resist traditional archetypes of good and evil.

Back then, in 2003, McKendry was still working on “Everything in This Country Must,” his Oscar-nominated short about soldiers from his native Northern Ireland.

Having grown up in Belfast, where politically motivated violence was a daily reality, he never saw the blood-soaked world Fiennes described as far-fetched or sensational.

Far less plausible, to an aspiring filmmaker with a blank résumé, was the notion that “Feather Men” would ultimately prove his ticket to Hollywood, where he’d be welcomed by one of the big screen’s most iconic tough guys, Robert De Niro.

De Niro stars in “Elite” opposite Jason Statham and Clive Owen, a casting coup for a first-timer, but McKendry admits that when he read the novel, he didn’t think of the “Taxi Driver” star.

“The guy who kept sneaking into my mind was Gene Hackman,” he says. “He has that weird, beat-up, tired but focused energy. So many action movies now are about 19-year-olds who wax their arms, gel their hair, cleanse their pores and go for a detox when they get stressed.

“This is about older guys. Jason has a line: ‘You don’t know what to do with yourself, and nobody knows what to do with you.’ That fits these guys. They’re action junkies, and they need their next fix.”


Killer Elite

Starring Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Jason Statham
Written by Gary McKendry, Matt Sherring
Directed by Gary McKendry
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 56 minutes

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