The Killer Elite 1975 ***

Sam Peckinpah’s career peaked with The Wild Bunch; while his later films display flashes of genius, his greatest work was probably in the late 1960’s. By 1975, alcohol and drugs were catching up with him, and the opportunity to direct a studio film like The Killer Elite came with conditions. Those expecting an over-the-top bloody spectacle will be disappointed, but there’s still meat on the bones. James Caan models a terrific wardrobe of turtle-neck sweaters and suede jackets as Mike, a CIA operative who is double-crossed by his partner George (Robert Duvall). George shoots Mike in the knee, retiring his friend, but Mike goes through a long and painful rehabilitation process and eventually puts together a team to seek revenge. The same year as French Connection II, The Killer Elite switches focus to cover the long route back that a driven individual might take; Caan does well with the physicality, and Peckinpah’s downbeat word-view is a good fit for the bigger-picture plotline about CIA departmental rivalry. The Killer Elite has never looked better than in Amazon’s spanking print; the finale on the deck of the Reserve Fleet in California is crisp and clear even when the switching of allegiances isn’t.

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