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The Mechanic (2011)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE MECHANIC (2011)

Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn, Mini Anden

Written By: Richard Wenk, Lewis John Carlino (also story)

Directed By: Simon West

The Short Version

A Charles Bronson classic gets remade.

The Mechanic proves that something can be watered down and add more bullets.

Jason Statham is solid; Ben Foster is just “kinda there.”

Donald Sutherland owns his brief time on the screen.

The Mechanic works as standard action, and is worth a watch, but it doesn’t beat the original.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

COLBY.

It’s good, but it tastes like a mild imitation of something else.


Pairs Well With...

SOUTHERN COMFORT.

No one in the movie drinks it (they drink Cutty Sark and Jameson), but it suits the setting perfectly, and the characters.  I’m tempted to add a lime.

“What I do requires a certain mindset.  I do assignments: designated targets.  Some jobs need to look like accidents.  Others must cast suspicion on someone else.  A select few need to send a clear message.  Pulling a trigger is easy.  The best jobs are the ones nobody even knows you were there.”


Those are the first real lines of The Mechanic, as read by the title character, Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham, The Expendables), to describe his job to the audience.  They’re read just after the audience has spent five minutes watching him execute one of those “best jobs” – the assassination of a Colombian drug lord, made to look like an accidental drowning in a swimming pool.  Within fifteen minutes, there’s one more “best job” to be had, after which, everything goes completely, utterly sideways.

How well that sideways-shifting plays is entirely up to you, with a deciding factor likely being whether or not you’ve experienced what came before.

Old school action fans will know that The Mechanic is actually a remake of the classic 1972 flick of the same name starring Charles Bronson in the title role.  More than that, it’s a remake of one of Charles Bronson’s best films – to me, it’s the best – and one of the true classics of the hitman genre – again, to me, the best of the bunch.  If you are aware of the first film and have seen it for yourself, the comparisons are inevitable, and are certain to color your perspective of this version.  With that in mind, I’m going to approach The Mechanic from two fronts: one tinted with historical awareness, and one without.  I’ll start with the latter.

As a straight-up, “watch things go boom” modern action flick, The Mechanic delivers the goods in a reasonable and perfectly enjoyable fashion.

The great hitman sequence at the opening is followed by another, hooking the audience immediately and then yanking to make sure that everyone’s definitely paying attention.  After that, while the pacing can’t really be described as “relentless,” it is nevertheless steady and exciting, and certainly never slows down long enough to allow a viewer to get bored.  The characters are exactly as developed as they need to be: no more, but, just as if not more importantly, no less, either.  The film’s not perfect by any means – sharks are jumped and moths appear to have eaten a few holes in things – but it’s still good, especially when set alongside its modern action peers.  The bullets fly, the direction’s decent, and there’s even a little sex on the side.  Overall, The Mechanic is solid, fun, and entertaining, and easily earns a spot in the “see it” column.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle…

If you’ve seen and enjoyed the original film, this take on The Mechanic isn’t going to look nearly as solid.  It’s still fun to watch and still worth seeing, but it doesn’t even come close to being on par with its “genre best” predecessor.

Being the Charles Bronson fan that I am (he is one of my all time favorite action movie stars), I was surprised to find that I had no real issue with the guy succeeding him here: Jason Statham.  Not that I ever had a problem with Statham’s work before, mind; it’s just that when someone steps into shoes once filled by one of one’s favorite actors playing said actor’s best role, it’s natural for one to be preemptively twitchy.  However, Statham turns out to be the perfect choice for the modernized Arthur Bishop, giving him the same detached calm that Bronson did while filling out all of the requirements for a more modern style of action.  He makes the role his own without betraying the best of what came before.  Too often actors stepping into the shoes of classic players take their roles into left field to prove a point; Statham, on the other hand, does it exactly right, and is definitely the best part of The Mechanic.

Definitely, though, just by a nose.  This is because someone was brilliant enough to cast Donald Sutherland (The Puppet Masters) in the role of Bishop’s mentor, McKenna, previously played by Keenan Wynn.  Wynn’s performance is one of the weakest elements of the original; Sutherland, by contrast, absolutely owns the screen for the brief time that he’s on it, and his figurative ghost lingers long after.  His performance is the one thing that this remake does better than the original film did, and it’s better by miles.  Just amazing stuff.

That’s the good news.

To say that The Mechanic underwent an extensive rewrite between its 1972 and 2011 versions is an understatement.  The basics of the characters and the plot are still there, but the flavor and the tone have completely changed.  The original starts with a study of one of Bishop’s assignments: fifteen minutes of deliberately paced, slow, contemplative planning and execution, with no real dialogue.  This filmmaking team, meanwhile, has decided (correctly, I am very sad to say) that modern audiences don’t have that kind of patience, so the scene has been completely reworked to involve not only a Colombian drug kingpin, but also a lot more screaming and thrashing and action that’s concluded inside of five minutes.  The second death has also been revamped for modern sensibilities.  Both scenes are still effective, but the tone in each instance is very different from what came before.  Before, they were the opening exhibits in a deep psychological study of what it means to be a professional killer living outside the accepted norms of civilization.  Here, they’re just jobs.  It’s the difference between deep and shallow, though oddly enough, here, the powers that be have made things shallow by adding water.

This same trend continues right on down the line.  Subtlety and ambiguity don’t exist, and true depth has been replaced by simple, grade school motivations.  Originally, Steve McKenna (Ben Foster, X-Men: The Last Stand) was a true psychopath with no emotion beyond amusement with himself and no regard whatsoever for anyone else’s life.  Here, he’s just a fuckup who feels the need to avenge a father from whom he’d become estranged.  It’s a case of character subtraction by story addition, and it really takes a lot of punch away from the material.  Meanwhile, more punch is removed by the alteration made to the Bishop/hooker substory.  Originally, Bishop paid a hooker to pretend to be a wife/fiancée who missed him terribly, and the scene played out as one of the most disturbing in the entire film.  Here, he just has a hooker he goes to regularly, and that’s that.  From deep psychological study to cheap sex; done.  (I’ll still take the cheap sex, of course, but…)

I won’t spoil the Third Act for you, but I will say that while the signature ending is partially preserved, it also chickens out bigtime, and during an encounter that occurs beforehand… a face full of bullets and a “fuck you”?  Really?    And what happened to the consummate professional of the first twenty minutes, anyway?  I couldn’t tell you, but the lookalike who replaced him sure is cavalier about leaving fingerprints all over his crime scenes.  The Arthur Bishop I remember wouldn’t be that sloppy.

Returning attention to Ben Foster, he is easily the weakest part of The Mechanic.  Considering that his character is watered down through the addition of what would normally be motivational elements, he does have the chance to do something here (especially considering that he’s stepping into the shoes of Jan-Michael Vincent, who’s not exactly Captain Charisma), but he simply has no screen presence and, frankly, no apparent drive.  He’s not a leading man, and he’s not a leading support player, either.  I’d call him costume filler, but the costumes are too big for him.  He just doesn’t belong here.

Fortunately, though, the aforementioned pacing, the solid direction, and a strong performance from Jason Statham do much to cover up for Foster’s deficiencies, and The Mechanic works despite what its second-billed actor doesn’t bring to the table, especially for those who aren’t in a position to compare this film with what came before.  Even then, audiences who’ve become used to modern Short Attention Span Theatre may still find this more watered down but definitely louder take to be more appealing.  It may not be nearly as deep, but it does remember to deliver the action goods, and that, at the end of the day, is what counts for most people.

Bottom line, The Mechanic is worth a peek regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the original, and whether or not you liked it if you did see it.  The Mechanic is very much a product of its time, and taken as such, it’s certainly up to the task at hand.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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