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CAAN & DUVALL UNDER PECKINPAH FOR THE KILLER ELITE

Year of Release: 1975
It takes two GODFATHER actors, the, at that time, already iconic and borderline legendary James Caan and Robert Duvall, to perfectly kickstart a movie about a secret operation even "worse" than the CIA (are portrayed on screen) acting like a couple slap-happy Playboys, or, perhaps, the way they really were with each other behind the scenes, laughing with delicious inside quips, throwing dirty jokes back and forth, cracking wise and unwise about women and yet only one of them guffaws about the other's possible venereal disease... A hilarious moment indeed...

All in a car driving over the Golden Gate bridge shot by director Sam Peckinpah in a modern setting, beginning with a building exploding and Caan and Duvall, as Mike and George, harboring a "snitch" who... Let's just say things don't go well for this man, and his future turns out much worse than a horrible, game-changing injury for Caan's Mike after a double-cross that's extremely suspenseful, in fact even more-so than most films being that, after experiencing two pals acting like they've known each other since grade school, Duvall's sudden transition, taking place fully-clothed, sitting on a toilet seat, gun in hand with an icy stare... especially contrasted to the funny guy he was minutes before... And in another minute's time, Caan's Mike winds up with a busted knee cap and one nearly dead arm, and some of the best, most personal scenes occur in the hospital thereafter.

Caan Vs Duvall
A movie today would never spend so much energy on a man's struggle to regain his physical worth. And after a montage, wherein he's first taken inside the operating room, lasting a good five minutes as we struggle with Caan, witnessing an ultra realistic surgery that, in the vein of BULLITT, shows the arduous process that usually, only those allowed "behind the tape" can witness...

Bo knows Sam
Upon a slow process of healing within the San Fransisco setting, often being humiliated in public when he can't keep his stance, Caan's determination to "get back to work" is practically an impossible one, but for us to get so involved, it takes a great actor with a topnotch director, the latter hitting his peak which would (arguably) end with CROSS OF IRON two years later, to bring us into the pain and suffering as the underline, peripheral plot seems to be the obvious payback to Duvall's double-agent, stuck in Caan's mind the whole way through his teeth-clenching resurrection.

JC with former CFF friend Alice Friedland, what happened?
And when, after an action-packed Asian mobster plot is introduced in high flying antics at an airport (one of several other things, including the town itself, reminiscent of BULLITT), ironically, things wane a bit, but only because the film becomes too busy and convoluted, seeming to bustle out of Peckinpah's natural wheelhouse as an attempt to join, equal or surpass the popular Political Thriller genre liken to 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR along with the Kung Fu craze, with Bruce Lee still on everyone's mind...

Bo Hopkins in ELITE
In all this, Bo Hopkins, as a deadly hit man more on the darker side of things, is not only a Peckinpah stock actor but brings us back down to the fan-familiar "Bloody Sam" level, and he alone is far more intriguing than the one-note idealist, Burt Young, an old friend of Caan's and usually (like in ROCKY and CHINATOWN) an edgy, crooked sort but here, as the opposite of Hopkins cold-blooded yet effective hired-gun, seems to, along with an untrusting Caan, keep Bo's borderline schizo Jereme more KILLER delete than ELITE, perhaps an apology from Peckinpah himself to his own Hollywood clique: the Left Wing Hollywood who Sam completely agreed with but that, after the ultra-violent WILD BUNCH and the unfairly maligned and misunderstood rape scene in STRAW DOGS, typecast him as a sort of extremely violent "fascist" (an actual term from a critic) filmmaker.

Robert Duvall transforms
But the eclectic (looking and acting) trio of Caan, Hopkins and Young works to shift from a solo-healing to an espionage ensemble leading to conversations that better be paid attention to, and then an all-out shootout on a dockside and, not to spoil things, but this thriller goes on far, far too long after Caan accomplishes what should have been the mere peak of the climb, vendetta style, which turns out secondary, or even third or fourth tier, making Duvall's previous and overall input not that important...

Just Purchased Twilight Time Blu Ray
And liken to that same year's (Bronson) vehicle, BREAKOUT, the incredible actor... one of the best in the world... is underused: a blasphemous sin since in APOCALYPSE NOW, Duvall does more with twenty minutes than most can use for two-and-a-half hours on screen. He seems a mere guest to Caan's lead, which is fine. But less of a supporting role would have upped the suspense, slackened the often hard to follow page-turning espionage, thus being more Sydney Pollock than Peckinpah, or the works of one of the guest stars, author Tom Clancy: Yet still, for a Bloody Sam film, there is fantastic editing and the usual slow-motion deaths, and perhaps his involvement in this cerebral genre, which ironically he ended his career with (not on purpose... he died after) in the clunky yet entertaining OSTERMAN WEEKEND, was, especially in this case, needed to show he could turn a modern political-thriller flick into an old school, shoot-em'-up Western. For no matter what the date, or setting, the Wild West seemed to be built into Sam Peckinpah's very soul. And was his legacy.

RATING: ***1/2
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