The Killer Elite (Sam Peckinpah / U.S., 1975):

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is his great, grotty confessional, but there's no denying Sam Peckinpah's fuck-you agenda in this snarky thriller -- a fable of self-romanticizing paranoia, acknowledged as a splendid private joke played from deep within a corporate potboiler. The director's name is plastered over a mamma bird feeding her young'uns, the first section is ad-libbed macho razzing on vaginal infections and duck quacking between James Caan and Robert Duvall, top men at a shadowy agency of professional eliminators ("the thought that the CIA might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous," the opening crawl assures). The joshing is interrupted by renegade Duvall's defection, but not before he forces his bud into early retirement with a couple of strategically paralyzing bullets; the recovery of Caan's limbs takes up the next movement, his revenge the last. Will that bring back his knee and elbow, asks a treacherous superior (Arthur Hill). "No, but wherever they are, they'll be a lot happier," quips the jock-avenger. That's just one of the hack lines in the Marc Norman-Stirling Silliphant screenplay, Peckinpah purifies them by molding them to his own irrational Old West code of honor (Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix are evoked, inevitably) in a world where betrayal, whoring, and compromise reign supreme. (Gig Young's ravaged mug is used throughout as sell-out emblem. "My father used to be a minister... That's what he wanted me to be," he moans to a general "Who cares?") Only Pauline Kael took the time to unpack Peckinpah's most abstract exercise, other reviewers could just blink at the iris-enclosed close-ups of hands shaping bombs, cubist cutting in the airport melee (Monte Hellman did the editing), and a climax where a flurry of trendy ninjas is utterly unable to tackle faithful ol' Burt Young, the wacky spectacle watched silently by the giant frozen guns of the stationed navy fleet, as irrelevant to modern times as Caan's (and the filmmaker's) stubborn maverickdom. With Bo Hopkins, Tiana Alexandra, and Mako.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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