In 1980, mercenaries Danny Bryce (Jason Statham), Hunter (Robert De Niro), Davies (Dominic Purcell), and Meier (Aden Young) are in Mexico to assassinate a man. Danny unwittingly kills him in front of his young child, then is injured during the getaway. Affected by this outcome, Danny retires and returns to his native Australia.
The following year, Danny is summoned to Oman where Hunter is being held captive. He meets with an agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who arranges missions for assassins and learns that Hunter accepted a $6 million job but failed to accomplish it. If Danny doesn't complete Hunter's mission, Hunter will be executed.
Danny is introduced to Sheikh Amr, a deposed king of a small region of Oman who wants Danny to kill three former SAS troopers—Steven Harris (Lachy Hulme), Steven Cregg (Grant Bowler), and Simon McCann (Daniel Roberts)—for killing his three eldest sons during the Dhofar Rebellion. Danny must videotape their confessions and make their deaths look like accidents, and he must do it before the terminally ill Sheikh dies. This will allow the Sheikh's fourth son, Bakhait (Firass Dirani), to regain control of the desert region his father had ruled. If Danny fails, Hunter will be killed. Danny reunites with Davies and Meier. They agree to help him in exchange for a share of the money.
As Danny and Meier sneak into the house of their first target, Steven Harris, in Oman, Davies, in England, questions local bar patrons about former SAS members. This is reported to the Feather Men, a secret society of former operatives protecting their own. Their head enforcer, Spike Logan (Clive Owen), is sent to investigate.
After Harris has confessed on videotape, Danny and Meier take him to the bathroom. They plan to kill him by hitting him over the head with a hammer made from a bathroom tile, then leave the body to look like Harris slipped and hit his head. In the process, Harris' girlfriend arrives, knocking on the door. While Harris and Meier are distracted waiting for her to leave, Harris attempts to break free, causing Meier to kill him hastily in a struggle.
Back in London, Davies discovers the second target, Steven Cregg, preparing for a long nighttime march in wintry weather at the Brecon Beacons mountain range. Davies creates a diversion; posing as a civilian having car problems outside the base's fence, allowing Danny to infiltrate the base. Inside, he drugs Cregg's coffee, causing him to go into shock and die of hypothermia during the march. Danny, in uniform, follows Cregg on the march, and makes him confess on videotape before he dies.
Their last target, Simon McCann, currently works as a mercenary, after being discharged from the SAS following a car bombing that made him mentally unstable. Their plan is to rig a truck to respond to remote control, and crash it into McCann's car while he is driving, making his death look like a traffic accident. With the help of a new and inexperienced team member, Jake (Michael Dorman), Meier successfully kills McCann; however, Logan and his men were watching over McCann. A gun fight in the docks ensues, and Meier is accidentally killed by the inexperienced Jake. Danny and Davies decide that the case is over, and they part ways. Soon after, Davies is tracked down by Logan's men, and is hit by a truck and killed while trying to escape them.
Danny returns to Oman and gives the Sheikh the last taped confession, which he has faked. Hunter is released and returns to his family, while Danny heads back to Australia and reunites with Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), a childhood acquaintance. Soon, he is informed by the Agent that there is one last man who participated in the Sheikh's sons' murders and that this man, Ranulph Fiennes, is about to release a book about his experiences as a member of the SAS.
Danny tells Anne to go to France with Hunter to protect her while he carries out the last job. The Sheikh’s son confirms that Harris was an innocent man. Logan, meanwhile, traces Danny through the Agent and sends a team to protect the author, but Jake distracts them, allowing Danny to infiltrate the building and shoot the author. He chooses to only wound the author, however, but takes pictures that appear to show him dead. Logan chases and captures Danny, taking him to an abandoned warehouse, but he is interrupted when an agent from the British government arrives and reveals that the British government is behind the events because of the Sheikh's valuable oil reserves. A three-way battle ensues, with Danny escaping and Logan shooting the government agent.
In Paris, Anne goes to take the subway. The Agent and a henchman are waiting for her because the Agent plans to kidnap her for ransom. But Hunter follows her, beats the henchman and shoots the Agent in the leg. The Agent then tries to explain that it is just for business. Hunter seems threatening at first, but then spares his life.
Danny and Hunter head to Oman to give the Sheikh the pictures. However, Logan arrives first, confronts the Sheikh, telling him that the pictures are fake and then stabs him to death. The Sheikh's son does not care and gives over the money, which was intended for Danny and Hunter, to Logan. Hunter spots Logan leaving, and they chase after him, along with the Sheikh's men.
After stopping the Sheikh's men, Danny and Hunter confront Logan on a desert road. Danny says that Logan can keep the money (though Hunter takes some for his expenses and his family). They give Logan the remainder, telling him that he'll need it to start a new life away from the government after killing the government agent and acting against the wishes of the Feather Men and the British government. Danny says that it's over for him and that Logan must make up his own mind. They leave him there, saying they'll send a cab for him from the airport. Danny meets with Anne in France to start a new life.
The Internet Movie Database cites a number of locations used for filming. Filming began at Docklands Studios Melbourne in May 2010. In July 2010, Jason Statham's scenes were shot at the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Robert De Niro filmed a scene in Melbourne's Spring Street set in 1970s Paris. The scene of McCann's death by tanker truck was filmed on Dynon Road, Melbourne. The final scene was filmed on Little Collins Street in Melbourne.
Some London scenes were filmed in Cardiff—in July 2010, De Niro and Statham were seen filming outside The Promised Land Bar on Windsor Place. Other scenes shot in Cardiff were also on Windsor Place, showing the City United Reformed Church, Buffalo bar and various small business buildings. Agent's several meetings with other characters at a stone, columned monument were shot at the Welsh National War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff. A scene where The Welshman leaves a building was shot on Kings Road, Pontcanna, showing Kings Road Doctors' Surgery and residential buildings. Another scene was shot at The Blue Anchor Inn in East Aberthaw, Vale of Glamorgan.
In July 2010, filming took place near the Storey Arms outdoor centre in the Brecon Beacons. A number of 1970s period cars were in evidence, particularly a bright orange Austin Maxi.
The film, which had a gala-premiere at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2011, has received negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes maintains Killer Elite with a 25% rating with the consensus stating: "A rote, utterly disposable Jason Statham vehicle that just happens to have Clive Owen and Robert De Niro in it." Conversely, Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars out of 4, calling it director Gary McKendry's "impressive debut", noting he "understands that action is better when it's structured around character and plot, and doesn't rely on simple sensation."
Despite the negative reviews, Killer Elite was nominated for Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects at the 2nd AACTA Awards.
The plot for the movie is based on the novel The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and is "based on a true story" (since Fiennes insists that it is true). Several elements from the book were altered to make the movie seem more believable to a movie-going audience.Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the book's author, claims that a secret society called the "Feather Men", made up of retired and disabled SAS members, was operating in the shadows. They are called the "feather men" because their influence and intervention were subtle, like the touch of a feather. It is also an allusion to the three feathers of British Army regiments. Their job was to protect SAS personnel and their families and avenge wrongs or harm done to them.
The mastermind behind the plot was changed from a Soviet-trained terrorist group called The Clinic to an Omani sheik who is inexplicably sent into exile after his three eldest sons die on jihad. The sheik hires a group of highly skilled Western mercenaries, gives them a limitless budget, and holds one of their friends as a hostage so that they will complete the task he sets for them.
The targets are three SAS troopers (one who is still serving and is a decorated war hero) who served in Oman in the 1970s. Their deaths must appear accidental to avoid reprisals. In the film, an added complication is that they must confess to being murderers before they are killed.
The Battle of Mirbat, a siege in which nine SAS troopers with 100 assorted Firqas under training and 30 paramilitary askars (armed police) held off a force of 250 insurgents, is mentioned in passing in the film but never explained. One of the sheik's three sons was supposed to have been killed in action there.
In the movie, the British Foreign Office is supposed to be in collusion with the sheik in order to guarantee oil leases on the sheik's land. They even force the "feather men" to back off with threats of imprisonment. However, the wealthy sheik is in exile and his son, a westernized playboy, shows no interest in returning to his homeland to claim his title. Therefore, even if the sheik's plot is successful, the British government will not have gained any leverage with the original landholders (and probably have a current relationship with the usurper who replaced him). The book has no such subplot.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes claims that the "feather men" saved his life from an assassination attempt by The Clinic. In the book, 'The Clinic' tried to ambush him at his farmhouse in Exmoor, but the "feather men" ran them off. In the movie, he is a minor character who only survives because the assassin feels regret and only maims him. In fact, in the movie Fiennes' inclusion in the death list is an afterthought by the patron because Fiennes falsely claims in a tell-all book that he was at Mirbat.
The military adviser for the movie was Iain D Townsley, a former member of a Sabre Squadron 22 SAS. Iain had served 25 years in the British Army, 18 of those years with 22 SAS. Iain was at that time living in Victoria Australia, and by chance was introduced to the director Gary McKendry who offered him the job. Iain maintained that "it's a good story, but not a true story".Battle of Mirbat
The Feather Men, a 1991 novel.