by HELEN GEIB
Jason Statham is elite hitman Arthur Bishop in The Mechanic. A professional at his level doesn’t meet directly with the clients: he gets his jobs through a murder-for-hire broker represented by an “executive” baddie, nameless bodyguards, and the voice of an anonymous telephone operator. Bishop’s primary contact is his old mentor and friend Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). When the company hires him to kill McKenna over an internecine dispute, he does so without hesitation. Bishop has always lived and worked alone, but his solitude is broken when he agrees to tutor McKenna’s son Steve (Ben Foster)- violent, aimless, sometime drug-user- in the assassin’s trade.
The Mechanic is a remake of the 1972 film of the same title starring Charles Bronson. Although the new film hews fairly closely to the plot of the original, the characterization and overall storytelling emphasis are significantly different. Essentially, the material has been re-worked as an action movie vehicle for Statham. The action quotient is majorly ramped up and the drama and suspense have been correspondingly ratcheted down.
By way of illustration: In an early scene, Bishop meets McKenna to collect payment for a job. A bit of clunky exposition has McKenna tell Bishop that he’s as good as he is at what he does because he can read people, because he sees things other people don’t see. However, our takeaway from seeing him in action is that he’s the best at what he does because he’s physically very strong and mentally, is able to kill without compunction. Likewise Steve’s training is mostly concentrated on weapons practice at Bishop’s backwoods firing range.
This is a fast-paced, action-heavy movie about amoral men. The action itself is choreographed and filmed with a brutal efficiency that keeps things moving, and also shows Bishop as a relentless, ruthless killer. The film’s overall visual aesthetic is, appropriately enough given the content and source material, in the neo-exploitation style currently in vogue for low-to-modest budget Hollywood actioners.
Viewers looking beyond the action will find that the film’s greatest virtues are Foster’s twitchy, hollow-eyed performance as the rage-fueled Steve and the underlying ambiguity of Bishop’s motives and actions where his disciple-victim is concerned. Foster is good right up through his note-perfect final scene, but the filmmaking badly undercuts the ambiguity at the dramatic climax. The last scene boils down to a set-it-up-for-a-sequel cheap shot at the audience’s expense. A movie filled with ugly violence committed by sociopaths should have the guts to be tough-minded.
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