Directed By: Simon West
Screenplay By: Richard Wenk, Lewis John Carlino
Based upon the 1972 film
Produced By: René Besson, Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Rob Cowan, Marcy Drogin, Avi Lerner, John Thompson, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler
Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Chase, Mini Anden
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes
Release Date: January 28, 2011
Review Date: January 28, 2011
There is a single scene leading to the violently over-the-top climax of The Mechanic that is so jarring in how it sets exactly the right tone between the wordlessly antagonistic relationship between teacher and mentor that I had to check my notes to recall how exaggerated the finale actually is. I’m a sucker for the details sometimes.
It’s not that the rest of this loose remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 movie of the same title is forgettable, but it is fair to say many of the movie’s action sequences are primarily ordinary affairs heightened by a macabre sense of glee at the bloody finesse of its anti-heroes. The characters are about at the same level of depth — jovially homicidal but archetypal solitary killers individually (though one is thoughtful while the other is feral) and master and student as a pair. The dichotomy of tone, alternating between the cheery spray of bullets amid the brawls implementing creative use of environmental props and the isolation of the protagonist’s regret (or fear of being killed) over a secret, is what lingers here.
Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) kills people with three ends in mind: Make it look like an accident, pin the murder on someone else, or send a message. He is a careful planner, calling his hits “assignments” and studying his subjects and their surroundings as though trying to ace a difficult test.
Arthur’s contact for these jobs is Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), partner in the secretive company that makes all its profits on contract killings. He insists Arthur needs companionship, though Arthur protests that, after all, he has Harry.
The other partner in the company (Tony Goldwyn) believes Harry betrayed an assignment, resulting in the deaths of five of their employees, and offers Arthur the task of killing his old mentor. He accepts, fakes a car-jacking, and, after the fact, takes on Harry’s problematic son Steve (Ben Foster), who is so set on revenge that he drives to the wrong part of town to kill any and all car thieves who try to rob him. Maybe he’ll get lucky and kill the man who killed his father, he rationalizes to the man who actually did.
Steve’s training takes on the form of a montage, learning to shoot (spent cartridges fly out of the chambers of assorted firearms in the only display of hollow slow motion) and lose himself in the routine of daily trips to a coffee shop, where, in fact, he is actually scouting Arthur’s next target. Once Arthur gives the kid the go-ahead to act — taking advantage of the mark’s appreciation of younger men — the movie becomes a practically unrelenting showcase for action set pieces.
Though Arthur insists Steve kill in such a way that the death appears natural, Steve, the wild card that he is, doesn’t do things quietly. A fight ensues, spread throughout an apartment and making damaging use of whatever pieces of furniture — a shelf here, a glass table there, and that refrigerator door over there — or household items — a fire poker is, not surprisingly, particularly brutal — are in the vicinity. Arthur has a similar fight onboard an airport shuttle, discovering an unanticipated use for the pin of a fire extinguisher.
Director Simon West avoids showy cuts and keeps the camera still and in medium shot, framing even the gunplay in ways for maximum effect. After yet another job (aimed at a television personality with a weakness for young girls who has organized a cult following) goes awry in a hotel room, Arthur and Steve fight a series of bodyguards inside the walls, in the room, and up to the roof.
The screenplay by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino (who penned the original) rarely stops for introspection of the violence. When it does take a brief timeout, the movie makes passing references to the pointless drive of revenge, which is where that one scene (before a shootout in the street, a game of chicken with a bus, and the force of a garbage truck overtake the final fight) comes into play.
Without saying the words, the two accept the truth of Harry’s death is now common knowledge, and they establish a kind of living will for the unavoidable result. It’s a modest scene with maximum impact. Like the rest of The Mechanic, there’s a counterpoint: A statement on the boomerang effect of violence made with massive explosions and undermined by a cheating final shot. The contradiction almost works.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.