Directed by: Simon West.
Written By: Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino.
Starring: Jason Statham (Arthur Bishop), Ben Foster (Steve McKenna), Tony Goldwyn (Dean), Donald Sutherland (Harry McKenna), Jeff Chase (Burke), Mini Anden (Sarah).
I haven’t seen the original version of The Mechanic starring Charles Bronson, but I bet it differs quite a bit from this new one. For one thing, action movies have become much more elaborate (not better) since 1972 when the first film came out. But on a more important level, Bronson was one of the last in a line of actors that included John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum as stoic and silent men, who never complained, but had faces where you could read the pain life had caused them. In contrast, Jason Statham is just as silent as those other actors, but has a boring face that tells us nothing. He isn’t silent because he has been beaten down by life – he’s silent because he has nothing interesting to say. Luckily this new version also includes Ben Foster, an actor who never shies away from going completely over the top – a trait I love him for.
The Mechanic stars Statham as Arthur, an assassin (which apparently has a code name of a Mechanic). He has worked for Harry (Donald Sutherland) for years, and he is the best at what he does. He specializes in pulling off jobs where no one even suspects foul play was involved. Then he gets a new contract from Harry’s boss Dean (Tony Goldwyn) – to take out Harry himself. Dean tells Arthur that Harry has betrayed them, and as such needs to be taken out. Arthur can do it himself, or they can go to someone else. Arthur takes the job, and fulfills his duties. But then he runs into Harry’s estranged son Steve (Foster), and feels guilty. Steve is self destructive, so to “save” him, Arthur decides to teach him how to become a mechanic like himself. Of course, the secrets buried in the film – the double crosses, the revenge, everything will eventually surface – but not until a hell of a lot of bodies pile up.
The film, director by Simon West (Con Air) is high on action, and for once doesn’t skimp on the blood either. I tire of action movies where dozens of people get shot, and there is no blood, no mess afterwards – so if The Mechanic gets one thing right it’s in the violence it shows – when people get shot here, it’s bloody, it’s messy and it hurts. That’s not to say there isn’t a bunch of over the top action sequences in the movie – there are – and for the most part they are handled well by West, who is never going to be mistaken for a great filmmaker, but knows how to stage an action sequence without resorting to the type of rapid fire editing most action movies employ that give me a headache, and make the action incomprehensible.
I have never really warmed to Statham as an actor. He can be charming and funny, but even in his best work – the early films he did with Guy Ritchie – his characters have struck me as hollow and empty, and his work here is no different. He is saved by the work of Ben Foster, who is full of nervous ticks, and a psychotic gleam in his eye that I simply cannot get enough of. If a great director gives Foster a decent bad guy role, he will knock it out of the park as he has in movies like this, Hostage, Alpha Dog, 30 Days of Night and 3:10 to Yuma – he just needs to be in a better movie. Donald Sutherland adds a little old school charm to his brief role as well. Tony Goldwyn is as bland and generic as he normally is as the bad guy.
Overall, I quite enjoyed The Mechanic for West’s direction and Foster’s great performance. This is the type of action movie that I still enjoy, even as it runs down one cliché after another. In fact, had the movie ended one or two scenes earlier, I most likely would have upped my rating by half a star. But the movie insists on giving us a “happy” ending, which makes no sense, since no one in the movie is really a good guy – and no one deserves a happy ending. The Mechanic is a fun time waster for most of its running time, but its ending angered me.