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Film / The Killer Elite

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The Killer Elite is a 1975 American action film starring James Caan and Robert Duvall and directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Mike Locken (Caan) and George Hansen (Duvall) work for private intelligence agency ComTeg (Communications Integrity) handling deniable operations for the CIA, among other clients. The two are best friends, which doesn't stop Hansen from wounding Locken and murdering an Eastern European defector that they're guarding. After a lengthy and difficult rehabilitation, Locken is eager for revenge but his boss Cap Collis is not interested, assuming that Locken is useless for anything but a desk job. He's overruled by the CEO of ComTeg, Lawrence Weyburn, who hears that Hansen has been assigned to kill visiting Asian dissident Yuen Chung (played by Mako). Locken recruits two former colleagues, Jerome Miller (as rear gunner) and Mac (as wheelman). Cap however has his own agenda.


Not to be confused with the 2011 movie Killer Elite.

This movie contains the following tropes:

  • The '70s: The kung fu, the casual drug references, the disillusionment with government...
  • The Bait: When Chung is told he can switch on a light in his safehouse, Mac immediately accuses Locken of using their client as bait to get Hansen.
  • Batman Cold Open: Locken and Hansen rescuing a defector after blowing up a building (presumably Faking the Dead).
  • Beneath Suspicion: When Locken exits the shower to find Hansen off his post, holding a silenced pistol, he assumes his friend is playing another practical joke.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Hansen shoots the defector through the head.
  • Bomb Disposal: Mac hears something rattling under the cab and insists on stopping to look, despite the police being after them. He finds a Time Bomb concealed under a lump of axle grease. When a motorcycle cop tries to detain them, Mac hands him the bomb and advises the cop he'd better throw it in the Bay before it explodes.
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  • Blatant Lies: Locken promises the cop they'll wait until he returns after getting rid of the bomb. Then they pile into the car and drive off. "Dumbass."
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Hansen shoots the defector with a silenced gun while Locken is having a shower.
  • Corporate Samurai (or Murder, Inc., if you will): ComTeg
  • Corporate Warfare: The whole plot was caused by an internal struggle between ComTeg executives.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Hansen trolls Locken by pretending he went through the purse of the woman Locken slept with and found a letter from her doctor asking her to see him about a vaginal infection. Then Hansen reveals he's done up a whole bunch of these letters and just fills in the name.
  • Escort Mission: The main job we see ComTeg doing on screen, rather than dirty tricks for the CIA.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Even Locken and Mac end up doing it!
  • Expose the Villain, Get His Job: Weyburn tells Locken that if he comes up with evidence that Cap is the traitor, he can have Cap's job. On discovering that Hansen is dead, Cap offers Hansen's pay packet and job to Locken. Locken is really not impressed by either man by this stage, so he inflicts some Laser-Guided Karma instead. Then he removes the pay packet and helps himself to Cap's yacht as well.
  • Fanservice:
    • One of the hookers at Locken/Hansen's party is casually topless.
    • Of course, it's entirely necessary for Cap to meet his contacts in a strip joint.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Locken starts a relationship with the nurse who's helping him recover from his injuries.
  • Funny Background Event: As chaos breaks out when a body rolls out onto the baggage conveyor, a security guard is exasperated when he's flashed by a man in a trenchcoat.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: A movie about the corporate face of international espionage has...ninjas!
  • Gun Twirling: Miller borrows Mac's gun and does this, causing Locken to sarcastically ask if he's Wyatt Earp.
  • Handicapped Badass: Locken learns to fight with his cane.
  • Highly Visible Ninja: Zigzagged; the ninjas who try assassinating Yuen at the airport are dressed as civilians. Tommie dresses up in the traditional kabuki-gear while on the dock at night, but Hansen easily spots her. At the mothball fleet battle we see ninjas in their traditional outfits, but they're grey to match the paint on the warships. Toku and a few of his underlings are wearing black, but this is suggested to be for ceremonial reasons.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted with Hansen's extensive rehabilitation. However he never has any problems in the final battle either (for instance his elbow doesn't lock up at a crucial moment, despite this being foreshadowed earlier).
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Locken with both Hansen and Miller.
  • Hookers and Blow: Locken and Hansen have a party after their successful mission.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Yuen is returning to a homeland where he knows he'll be executed, in order to be a voice for democracy. He also accepts Toko's challenge to a Sword Fight.
    • Averted when Locken considers escorting Yuen back to his homeland, but decides not to because there's no money in it.
  • Human Shield / I Have Your Daughter: Hansen takes Tommie hostage.
  • It's What I Do: Mac points out that Weyburn is Not So Different from Cap, so Locken should just walk away from ComTeg and retire like he did. Weyburn points out that a man like Locken has nothing else but his job.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Yuen is referred to as Chinese, but it's not made clear whether the country he's returning to is Communist China or Taiwan. He can also fight with a katana well enough to defeat Toku, a Japanese ninja master. To further complicate matters, he dresses in ninja gear during the climax and wields a shuriken, he's played by Japanese actor Mako, and his daughter Tommie has a Japanese name (富江).
  • Ironic Echo: Hansen says, "You just retired" after shooting Locken, who uses the same line after shooting Cap.
  • Knee-capping: Hansen shoots his friend in the knee and elbow to take him out of action without killing him. Unusually for this trope, it's not treated as Only a Flesh Wound.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Hansen shoots Cap in the knee and elbow.
  • Marked Bullet: Locken informs Hansen that he notched every one of the bullets in his revolver for him.
  • Monumental Battle: The final battle takes place among the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay.
  • Mood Dissonance:
    • The opening credits show a montage of a Time Bomb being planted to the sound of children counting while jumping rope.
    • Yuen escaping ninja assassins is inter-cut with O'Leary briefing ComTeg on the issue.
  • Mutual Kill: Miller and another gunman.
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Ninjas attack men with firearms in the final battle.
  • Ninja Brat: Tommie
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Mac insists on waiting for Locken in the Chinatown shootout.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: A tongue-in-cheek notice at the start of the movie announces that there is no company called Communications Integrity nor ComTeg, "and the thought that the CIA might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous."
  • Overcrank: Locken getting shot by Hansen, and some of the fight on the warship.
  • Private Military Contractor: Or in this case, Private Intelligence Contractor.
  • Product Placement: Bullets riddle an AMC Pacer billboard.
  • Psycho Party Member: Jerome Miller, though downplayed. He shoots a policeman, then points out how he knew the man was Impersonating an Officer. And he shoots Hansen, but as Locken had been loudly proclaiming his intended vengeance he was hardly in a position to complain. Overall it's an Informed Attribute.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Locken refuses to drop his gun, as it has a hair trigger.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Cap isn't happy about the people chosen to take on the job as Locken is crippled, Mac is retired, and Miller is a psycho.
  • Rock Star Parking: Averted; Mac has to drop Locken off and circle the block until a parking space becomes free. On the other hand the parking space he does find is conveniently right outside the door for the subsequent shoot-out and escape.
  • Scenery Porn: Locken meets Miller on a hill above the Golden Gate Bridge, because he likes it up there.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Miller shoots Hansen while he's distracted by Locken walking off.
  • Soft Glass: Averted; a ninja at the airport gets his face badly cut up after having his head shoved through a window.
  • So Much for Stealth: When Yuen's daughter rushes out of the house in her ninja gear, Locken gets on the radio to tell Miller not to shoot, tipping off Hansen that Miller is out there (and letting him know that Locken cares enough for Tommie to use the girl as a hostage).
  • Sound-Only Death: After the cop runs off with the bomb, there's a loud explosion.
  • Spot the Imposter: The fake policeman is carrying a non-regulation automatic instead of a .38 revolver. The garbage truck on a street with no bins out.
  • Surveillance Station Slacker: Averted; the guards at the duck farm are bored but alert, drawing their weapons when Locken and Hansen turn up to relieve them, and insisting on a password even though they already know them.
  • Talking to Plants: Weyburn and his CIA liaison have a conversation on the subject. Turns out love sonnets make them die of boredom.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Hansen argues that Locken being shot was Nothing Personal, and even offers to cut him in for some of the money. Rather than accept the offer, Locken decides to walk away and take on Hansen another time. When Miller kills Hansen instead, Locken is shocked and punches him.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Mac has a yellow cab with a special engine, bulletproof glass and reinforced bumpers. It comes in handy during the Chinatown shootout.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?
    • Locken notes that Hansen should have killed him, but didn't.
    • When Chung is going to Sword Fight with Toku, Mac and Locken repeatedly offer to shoot him instead.
  • You Don't Want to Die a Virgin, Do You?: Averted; Tommie casually reveals to Locken that she's a virgin. Realising where she's heading with this, Locken abruptly cuts her off.

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