Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are freelance intelligence agents, but one day Hansen turns on his partner. With a series of shots crippling shots Hansen retires his partner and goes into hiding. Locken refuses to find a new career. After and long painful rehabilitation he is given the opportunity for revenge. With his own hand picked team, Locken is given a new assignment and a chance to square things up with his former partner.
Far more than just serviceable fun, The Killer Elite is continues a Sam Peckinpah tradition of stories that explore masculinity and aging. Rising to a challenge the hero plows headlong into danger, prepared to face death in an instance. Peppered with short bursts of action and building to a grand finale the film contains the quintessential action sequences that have given Peckinpah a reputation of violence. However, the film overall is a psychological study of one man refusing to let his body beat him; one man refusing to let go of his career. Maybe it’s not Brian’s Song, but then again Brian’s Song didn’t have guns and ninjas. It’s also the only PG rated film I know of that has someone getting their brains blown-out on camera.
Adding the experience of The Killer Elite to the lingering memory of Summer Camp X where we showed the wonderful, but forgotten Freebie and the Bean has me convinced that James Caan is one of America’s most under-rated comedic actors. I recall a documentary I once saw, something to the affect of You’ll Never Sleep In This Town Again where call girls and various hanger-ons told all about their sexual exploits with Hollywood celebrities. One woman freely divulged that James Caan was a man who loved to eat pussy, and I don’t doubt it. I also don’t doubt that he had no trouble getting into most women’s pants during the 70′s. He’s handsome. He’s charming. Most of all, he’s funny.
That Caan would find an outlet for humor in a Sam Peckinpah film is not a huge surprise. Mostly known for his indulgence in ultraviolence, there has always been a sting of black humor in most Peckinpah films. It’s an uneasy laugh, during uneasy times. Only grim jesters dare laugh when someone’s dying, but it’s not just Caan that provokes laughter. Bo Hopkins’ half crazed character, Jerome Miller, is a pitch perfect nut job, with guns. Together, Caan and Hopkins turn action into action/comedy long before it was every a legitimate genre.