Like this year’s “The Devil’s Double,” this film would be much more satisfying and believable if it was not so self-serving in favor of the people telling the story. The oddest part is that the fight scenes are brutally, authentic while the non-fight scenes are laughably ridiculous. While it says it is “based on a true story,” the book that inspired it is labeled as a work of fiction and has been discredited by family members of those involved.
It opens in 1980, with the world in unrest and an oil crisis. Danny (Jason Statham), ex-special forces, works various dangerous jobs with his long-time ally Hunter (Robert De Niro) until he decides to leave it all behind and have a new, peaceful life in Australia. But he gets pulled back in when Hunter is kidnapped by a sheik who wants Danny to hunt down and kill the men from British forces who killed his three sons in an armed conflict in Oman. But Danny can’t just kill them. The sheik wants taped confessions from each and then Danny has to make each death look like an accident (which of course makes it impossible, 30 years later, to say that the accidental deaths were not really homicides). Danny gets the band back together, with, of course, one newbie just to act as a wild card, and goes after the sheik’s three targets.
But in this nasty, brutish world, everyone’s a bad guy; it’s just a question of degree. While Danny and his group are going after the guys who killed the sheik’s sons, the guys who think those guys were the good guys go after Danny. And while all of that is going on, the desiccated old men sitting around in expensively furnished board rooms are moving them all around like chess pieces, with even less regard for whether they get knocked off the board. These are the “feather men” (because of their light touch) who like some third-rate Batman villain actually leave their calling card to let the men who do the actual killing know that they’ve been there. Just to make sure we get the point, the old guys in suits actually say things like, “What we did there was questionable,” “We all know our people went too far,” and “We’re businessmen and bankers now. We can leave no trace of our activities.” Meanwhile, the guys who kill people (as opposed to ordering other people to do it) say things like, “Killing is easy. Living with it is the hard part.” So we know they have feelings, get it?
Statham is always a pleasure to watch and De Niro is superb as the man who has given his life to adrenaline and rough justice but is loyal to his friend and his family. The fight scenes are not the usual choreographed carnage but believably rough and exhausting. There are some nice shifts of allegiance back and forth and some good points to be made about how behind the killing is profits from oil. But the whole premise becomes increasingly ludicrous until it falls apart.
If you like this, try: the book that inspired it (published as a novel), The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes and “The Bank Job,” another possibly fact-inspired film starring Jason Statham.